Competing with leaven and perpetual fear as the most exhausting side effect of the first pandemic, tiger king was Netflix snake oil. Dressed in true-crime prestige packaging, the hit docuseries was modern-day Jerry Springer Show, built on the exploited backs of eccentrics and criminals on the margins of society. Fortunately, everyone was fed up. Its sequel, tiger king 2, sank without a trace last November. This hypnotically pointless eight-part dramatization will hopefully follow.
tiger king explored the stranger-than-fiction saga of Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin, flamboyant rivals in the world of big cats. It was a story as old as time: a man with bad hair and a cage full of tigers is accused of abusing them by an animal rights activist, a man hires assassins to get the activist out, the man goes to jail and the activist continues Dancing with the stars. The details were grim and dark, with Exotic and Baskin bonded over traumatic stories and deceased spouses and the show treating it all like the world’s most depressing carnival attraction. Baskin would eventually attempt to sue Netflix, claiming she was betrayed as the series implied she potentially murdered her former husband and fed him her big cats.
Two years after the Netflix show, we have Joe versus Carola dramatization of the couple’s turbulent history starring John Cameron Mitchell and Saturday Night Live starring Kate McKinnon. It comes amidst a glut of docudramas pulled from the headlines that aim to redirect the buzzy stories we think we know, from Invent Anna and Pam and Tommy for The stall, about disgraced health prodigy Elizabeth Holmes. Like those before him, Joe versus Carol attempts to take a more nuanced approach to pop culture cartoons, but struggles to align its ambitions with its content.
I don’t know if this is a sensitive depiction of trauma or a comedy skit, Joe versus Carol instead decides to be both. It leaves laugh-inducing metaphors to do the heavy lifting and dramatizes real-world horror with a burst of neon-soaked pop video. A particular low point comes early on, Carole describing the strength of her furry friends – “The cats start out so innocent,” she says, “but they find a way to survive” – alongside a montage of her gang rape of ‘adolescents and the next time to live on the street. As it goes, the show vacillates haphazardly between tacky drama and brainless comedy. Mitchell draws mania and pathos from a tricky character, while McKinnon is strong for the most part, but Carole’s wackiest moments — her inability to use a phone or her difficulty coming up with a catchphrase — reek of bad luck. improvisation.
But above all, the series does not know why it must exist. tiger kingThe appeal of even misguided was its closeness to reality and the voyeuristic thrill of watching a convoluted and undeniably crazy story. Joe versus Carol simply photocopying it, resulting in something that is neither illuminating nor emotionally cathartic.
When Carole is set up by the creators of tiger king and “turned into an internet meme” in the show’s eighth episode, Joe versus Carol had his cake and ate it too: criticizing a culture that catapulted two troubled people to instant fame, while simultaneously recreating their stories for laughs and to worry about false worries. It’s a bizarre endnote, and exposes the moral flaws of a show that no one asked for, and certainly no one needed.
‘Joe vs Carole’ can be streamed from Friday March 4 on Peacock on Sky and NOW