Tiger King 2, On Netflix, Is A Pointless Brick In The Cringe-Watching Wall, Film Companion

Directors: Eric Goode, Rebecca Chaiklin
Genre: Docu-series

Tiger King 2 has no reason to exist. The five-part second season is a tasteless, cash-grabbing follow-up to Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness, a unique cringe-watch that owed its global success to the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. With nowhere to go, a shell-shocked world confronting the boredom of lockdown embraced the glorified Jerry Springer Show in early 2020. Almost overnight, Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin and their unmerry band of Florida natives became the trashy gifts that kept on giving. The makers barely recognized the irony of the tigers being relegated to the background of a human circus. But at least the documenting came from a space of morbid curiosity – their very presence was a story unto itself. The “characters” were visibly excited by the cameras, and one could never really tell where the living ended and the performing started. 

Tiger King 2 openly rides the coattails of fame and infamy, making the storytelling even murkier than before. It’s clear that people are saying what they think an audience would like to hear; they are reacting to perceptions of their image, not out of some abrupt philanthropic urge to tell the truth. Most of the ‘new voices’ entering the fray, too, sound like random attention seekers hoping to bask in the glow of borrowed celebrityhood. The result is a distracted and desperate “sequel” to a story that lost its notoriety the moment America took off their (quarantine) masks. 

Every episode is so detached from the previous one that one can only marvel at Netflix’s determination to keep a dead party going. The initial promise of Joe appealing his prison conviction soon disintegrates into one giant detour of trails – Joe, like the tigers, is forgotten while redundant questions are repeatedly asked about Carole Baskin, her missing ex-husband, Jeff Lowe and a new Joe named Tim Stark. It feels like the cameras are simply chasing any kind of drama, no matter where it is or who it comes from, in pursuit of a bigger picture that never arrives. 

We get it, Joe might have been framed, but the series seems to treat this ultra-obvious idea as though it were a true-crime epiphany. The first season literally asked to be judged and laughed at, which is why it’s now impossible to look past the memefication and suddenly see everyone as actual humans. I also can’t get over the nagging suspicion that the makers are patronizing the people they’re filming, presenting them as lesser mortals who would do anything for a hot buck. It’s one of the many pitfalls of the liberal gaze, this cultural superiority complex, the consequence of which is seen in the election of conservative leaders and autocrats all over the world. It’s no coincidence that this season is most (unintentionally) engaging in the one episode that features ex-US President Donald Trump and the “Free Joe” gang’s efforts to secure a last-ditch presidential pardon.

Also Read: There Is Method To The Addictive Madness Of Netflix’s New Documentary Series Tiger King

It’s amusing to see Trump fans take the moral high ground against the Joe Exotic supporters moments before they storm the Capitol themselves. (Joe is gay, so the Republicans’ homophobia is disguised as animal activism). You can almost hear the behind-the-scenes scoffing, even as it gets lost on the filmmakers that the series loses its personality once Joe Biden takes the White House. It’s a slightly saner world today – both in terms of the pandemic and American leadership – and this is reflected in the subsequent episodes’ efforts to make sense of an inherently nonsensical predicament. The spell is broken, mostly because Tiger King can’t feed the shadows of a Trump-powered conscience anymore. In effect, it’s like watching a bunch of restless infants becoming popular for wrecking a house and then pretending to be more responsible once the parents are back. But the mess is made, the legend is firmly entrenched; any attempt to extend it only defeats the purpose of broadcasting it to begin with. As a result, the storytelling today reflects – rather than observes – the opportunism of its faces. There is nothing to distinguish the creators from the characters anymore. 

The world of online investigators, shady lawyers, diaries and phone call transcripts further reeks of a B-grade docuseries template. The anti-narrative is so tedious that, by the end, I’m not sure even Carole Baskin remembers if she did it or not. (The episode about her ‘flawed’ ex-husband plays out like a rejected Narcos episode). Rounding up the new season with statistics about the dwindling tiger population is yet another tone-deaf gimmick. Maybe it’s time to treat Tiger King the same way the series – and its quasi-wronged faces – treats the big cats: as unwanted cargo.

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