A series that started out as a bewildering exposé is now just as obsessed with its own exploitative brand as Joe Exotic was with trying to be famous
Is the world ready for more Tiger King (Netflix)? Actually, I think the real question is whether or not the world needs more Tiger King. Fortunately, the answer comes directly from the source, courtesy of a second series.
It has been 20 months since Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin’s nauseating depiction of white trash American zookeepers introduced us to a loudmouth Kansas chap named Joe Exotic.
You know the drill. The conniving, attention-seeking tiger park owner, online TV host and part-time country singer is currently serving a 22-year sentence in federal prison. If you’ll recall, Exotic was convicted on several counts of animal abuse, and two counts of attempted murder for hire (the intended victim being his nemesis, the big cat conservationist Carole Baskin).
There were some other unpleasant cat people involved in Netflix’s annoyingly smug true crime extravaganza, including the odious Jeff Lowe — a charmless chancer trapped in a losing battle with his mid-life crisis — and the despicable Doc Antle, the ponytailed animal trainer who runs his own cult. Yep, all sorts of crazy stuff went down in that first season. Still, I am a firm believer that the biggest reason the world fell for Tiger King’s wild and wacky antics is because its arrival coincided with the first lockdown. There was nothing else on. We had all the time in the world, and some of us were desperate to be entertained.
In fact, the opening sequence of Tiger King 2 mentions the pandemic within the first 30 seconds. We get a shot of the Earth from outer space (no, really). We cut to a “regional data centre” in an “undisclosed location” (I am not making this up). A handy subtitle informs us that it’s March 19, 2020 and that stay-at-home orders have begun to spread across the US. And then — here’s the bonkers bit — a clock on the wall strikes midnight and boom: Tiger King hits the airwaves. Then we get a highlights reel of what happened next.
If all of this sounds silly, it’s because it is. It also tells us that (a) Tiger King shows at least some self-awareness when it comes to understanding its success, and (b) a series that started out as a barmy and bewildering exposé is now just as obsessed with its own tawdry and exploitative brand as Exotic was with trying to be famous. It’s not that Tiger King 2 doesn’t feature some new and disturbing revelations. Remember, one of the oddest aspects of season one was that it left viewers wondering if the aforementioned Baskin had something to do with the disappearance of her second husband, Don Lewis.
As it turns out, Mr Lewis had a few more skeletons in his closet than we had thought. Goode and Chaiklin’s unusual investigation continues to deliver a few surprising twists — but it also welcomes to the table a slimy and sleazy cast of new and unimproved supporting players, including media-hungry lawyers, dunderbrain relatives and a YouTube ‘detective’ who calls himself ‘Ripper’. It hardly helps that Baskin refused to contribute to season two — everything we see of her is leftover footage from the first run and / or snippets from her YouTube channel. Exotic appears over the phone from prison, complaining about not being able to enjoy his fame. Indeed, most of the Joe narrative is centred on a bunch of bananahead followers who travel to Washington to ask Donald Trump to pardon their hillbilly messiah. It doesn’t work out.
Basically, Tiger King 2 is all about the aftermath of Tiger King, but there isn’t enough to justify a second spin of the wheel. What we’re left with is a cheap, crass, lazy and extraordinarily pointless rehash of everything that’s come before. The people are horrible. Some of them are idiots. Everyone just talks and talks and talks — but nobody ever really says anything. It’s a gross and spectacularly stupid freak show, and we don’t deserve it — not after everything we’ve been through.
What we do deserve, however, is a better look at singer Nathan Carter’s trip to Mullingar. A new six-part series in which homegrown celebrities pay tribute to their idols, Shoulders of Giants (RTÉ One), opened with Carter tipping his hat (or, at least, his fabulously groomed mane) to the inimitable Joe Dolan.
Without Dolan, there would be no Carter — and as much as I’d like to make a joke here, the truth is that lovely Nathan comes across very well. Here, he interviews the late singer’s brother Ben, visits Joe’s old barber and jams with the remaining members of the Drifters. It’s fine, it’s fluffy and it’s a fun examination of how Dolan inspired a real-life Eoin McLove, with bigger biceps and tighter jeans. But it’s also a little slight in places and might have benefited from a longer running time.
Meanwhile, Mary McAleese returned to our screens in the admirable yet frustratingly unfocused, With God on our Side (RTÉ One). You have to admire the mission statement. This sombre and reflective offering was supposed to examine the role that religion played in creating and resolving conflict in Northern Ireland.
McAleese — a terrific interviewer, and an excellent broadcaster — met Gerry Adams, Arlene Foster and several others, including Pat Hume in her last interview before her death, to discuss everything from the North’s fractious past to its uncertain future.
The only problem is that, like most documentaries of its kind, With God on our Side eventually loses control of the gears and becomes another broad and entirely indistinguishable presentation on the Troubles.
It’s a shame, because there are signs — especially in the scenes where McAleese discusses with a taxi driver her Catholic upbringing in Belfast, and the loyalist attacks that drove her family from their home — that this could have been a more engaged and, indeed, personal project for the former president.