Tiger King 2 review: new series makes explosive Carole Baskin allegations
Warning: Tiger King 2 spoilers
Warning: Tiger King 2 trailers
Tiger King defined the early days of the pandemic. So much so that on the first anniversary of the lockdown, viewers actually became nostalgic about it.
Just as the UK is - hopefully - coming to terms with a 'post-pandemic' lifestyle, we're introduced to Tiger King 2, a new five-part series which has just dropped on Netflix.
So, is Tiger King 2 any good?
Well, it'll certainly encourage rampant bitchiness and gossiping around Carole Baskin - rival animal park owner and nemesis of Joe Exotic, the infamous antihero from the first series.
As a reminder of all the absurdness that took place the last time we saw these people, Baskin is accused by countless faces in both series of murdering her husband Don Lewis, who went missing in 1997. Main man and former tiger owner Joe Exotic is now in prison for ordering the killing of Baskin by a hitman - and all-round nasty-seeming bloke Jeff Lowe has taken over ownership of Exotic's old park.
Everyone's got a new allegation against Baskin or Exotic too - as Netflix probably asked them to prepare something to justify a return for a second outing. Although there's the distinct sense that the Tiger King posse are perhaps driven more by the limelight than their supposed desires to see justice served to either - but tell us something we don't know.
The second season's juiciest moments are when they turf back up the Baskin story, finding new evidence which ranges from the genuinely convincing to the sadly bonkers. However it all feels like an uncomfortable and unsubstantiated witch hunt relying too heavily on 'online sleuth' culture and mass speculation.
One such online sleuth called Ripper insists Baskin "knows something" but isn't talking when it comes to the murder case. John Phillips, the Lewis family lawyer, baits that he "thinks she feels untouchable" while police officers claim it's odd that Baskin won't cooperative with the current ongoing investigation, stating that in "most missing persons cases, the spouse typically talks."
There's the claim that Baskin hired a man she called "simple minded" to investigate her husband's disappearance. "Why would you hire someone you say is simple minded to look for somebody who is missing?" one detractor posits convincingly.
But this has all been done, as they say. The first series stacked up enough serious evidence around Baskin, most notably that Lewis filed a restraining order against her days before his disappearance, claiming she had threatened to kill him twice.
So Tiger King 2 can only offer developments rather than revelations and sadly, they'll never be able to get at the story with the same ferocity again. Inevitably, this new series feels like picking up the pieces and - at times - veers into being actually boring. It's the difficult second album.
Meanwhile, it's more tiring trying to keep up with the dozens of peripheral characters than it is exciting to hear from them. More often than not, their updates feel ranty and bloated. So Lowe's charging for autographed photos now? Exotic's ex Dylan is selling anal bleach as merch which he calls "tail brightener"? Sounds about right.
Over two episodes dedicated to Baskin sleuthing, the most "arrgh is this really happening?!" moment comes when the Lewis family hire a Christian clairvoyant psychic detective called Troy Griffin who visits a Florida lake and declares he has "bad juju." That's Christian clairvoyant speak for believing Baskin's missing husband spent his last moments by this lake, apparently. Then Troy goes full clairvoyant psychic detective. "I feel like I wanna puke," he says, leaning over a bush. "I feel like I could lose my cookies."
By this point, viewers may have lost their cookies too. Rather than believing anything Griffin says, it's easier to just sympathise with the Lewis family, who are vulnerable and desperate to get closure - and see justice served for their missing dad. Their grief feels exploited as a way to bring Baskin back into the story again. (Baskin herself refused to appear in the second series, and is suing Netflix for how she's involved - although she frequently appears in clips taken from her YouTube channel.)
None of the Baskin allegations have raised any charges so it's hard not to feel that a group of corrupt men - some with police histories - are piling onto a blonde female. But then again, on a handful of occasions things got so juicy that we felt like the man shovelling popcorn into his gob in that meme which went viral.
You know, this one:
Me trying to eat popcorn while watching a 4DX movie pic.twitter.com/HDo5PMjDgJ
— Wrestling Memes (@Wrestling_Memes) March 15, 2019
The most compelling story is served in the first episode, dedicated to the backstory of the man himself, Joe Exotic. In it, we learn that his former lover Brian Rhyne died of AIDS-related complications in the 1980s, how his dad abused him as a child and how his queerness dates back to his childhood. "He'd dress up as a cowboy, then a grandma - like he's in a make believe world," remembers one of his brothers.
Early life trauma can lead to some objectively terrible decisions later in life - hiring hitmen and the mass genocide of animals withstanding. However the series does well to convey how his actions often felt performative, rather than genuinely malicious - and the story of his queerness is one well worth listening to. "I was raised in an abusive cycle and I was gonna break that cycle," Exotic emotionally says in one excerpt looking at his backstory.
One rival park owner argues: "All the years Jeff Lowe wasn't in the picture, Joe didn't hurt anybody. All of a sudden, Jeff Lowe is in the picture and there are two hitmen."
As conversations increase around how problematic the culture of online sleuthing has become, giving the Baskin investigation another mainstream platform feels gratuitous. However Netflix love stretching out a cold case, as four-part documentary The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel proved by essentially repeating the same 15-second clip of a woman in an elevator for four hours.
With Exotic in prison and Baskin refusing to take part, the root of this documentary - the tigers - take a backseat and in turn, it feels less clear why we're here again other than to hear more outrageous claims.
The rest of Tiger King is a dull run-through of life since the new park owner Lowe has failed at his grand plans to open a new megawatt development on the site of Exotic's old park - and that's basically the thrust of it. Now all he has left is to sit around waxing lyrical about his old enemy Joe. Lowe comes across as a nasty character with none of Exotic's past traumas as complicated justification for his callous comments.
His remarks, easy to fire off when Exotic has limited ways of responding from prison, feel cowardly and boring to watch. Exotic dials in from behind bars and says exactly what we've all come to expect of him - but sadly, he's still more obsessed with shallow threats against Baskin than he is about examining his own behaviour.
Overall, it's all a bit depressing. The message of Tiger King 2 is that they're mostly still bitching about each other. The only good news - and it is proper good news - is that the tigers are now living their best lives in a more expansive wildlife park elsewhere. Exotic wishes Tiger King 2 may deliver him the same fate.
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