Meow, meow, 3.5 readers.
BQB here with a review of the drama based on the wildly popular Netflix documentary, Tiger King.
At the outset, let me ask two questions:
1 – How did Netflix, after Tiger King became so popular, not scoop up whatever rights it needed to produce its own drama based on the documentary?
2 – Did we really need it?
Answer to the second, no, which might explain why Netflix didn’t bother in answer of the first. Then again all these streaming services love money, which is why Peacock did it. Sidenote – this is basically a rare moment where I used my Peacock app.
For the uninitiated, Tiger King is a documentary that takes us deep into the wild and wacky world of big cat ownership. Apparently, unbeknownst to the general public, there has long been a subculture of private, for profit zoo owners who rule their little fiefdoms like kings, raking in bucks from clueless tourists who stop by to cuddle with baby tiger cubs, all the while paying their employees bupkis. These owners tend to be their own personal cults of personality, from Doc Antle who poses as a guru with a harem of hot babes who follow him wherever he goes to Jeff Lowe, an old man who dresses like he just stepped off the set of a 1990s NSync video.
Central to the doc was the feud between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin, he being a self-described gay redneck blonde mullet sporting gun toting cowboy who loves to blow shit up and can’t stop marrying young husbands half his age. At one point, he becomes a polygamist when he openly marries two.
Meanwhile, Baskin is a flower crown wearing hippy who operates a not for profit cat rescue shelter, working to put for profit cat owners out of business as she exposes their animal abuse practices. A big subplot of the series is, well, while it is never proven conclusively, there are a lot of, shall we say red flags, that might make one ask questions as to whether she might have had something to do with her ex-husband’s death.
When Carole sets out to put Joe out of business, claiming abusive animal practices, Joe responds with a series of online videos that rake Carole’s reputation over the coals. The feud descends into madness, eventually culminating in Joe hiring a hitman to kill Carole only for the hit to be botched, as Joe botches most things in his life.
Ultimately, the Peacock drama is unnecessary yet fun filler, kind of like those M and Ms you ate before dinner but wish you hadn’t. The steak adds protein, the broccoli adds vitamins while the candy is fun at first but later you get sick and wonder why you bothered with it. At times, it feels like a high school drama club took the main beats of the documentary story line and acted them out.
To the show’s credit, it does give us some new aspects. For example, we see a young version of Joe we never saw in documentary, one where he meets an out and proud gay man while in rehab after a car accident. Said man encourages Joe to embrace who he is rather than hide it, saving him from going down the path of marrying a woman as a beard and denying who he is, a life Young Joe admits would have eventually ended in his own suicide.
Living out and proud allowed Joe to meet his first husband, the only stable and age appropriate relationship he ever had. Together, the duo open a pet store and eventually that venture morphs into the zoo and said husband is such a grounding, stabilizing force in Joe’s life that one wonders if he hadn’t died young, perhaps Joe would have never picked up so many vices and become a respectable member of the community.
Meanwhile, we see Carole’s younger days, being abused by two husbands and while the abuse leaves her with a broken heart, she also grows stronger as she learns to make money and become independent so she never has to rely on a man who might abuse financial power over her ever again. In middle age, she meets dweebish Howard Baskin and its a romance filled with love and support.
Where the show differs from the series is Carole (Kate McKinnon) is portrayed as the hero of the series, with patriarchical misogyny being the true villain (hey it is in every other show these days so why not this one?) The theme is that all these big cat owners have fragile male egos who prop themselves up by owning and imprisoning wild animals who should roam free. If you see some of the footage of Joe and other cat owners, there’s probably a lot of truth to that.
However, the drama does ignore critical aspects of Baskin. While it does raise the question of her ex husband’s disappearance, it paints her as a victim of gossip who is innocent of the allegations whereas the documentary raises some points that…well…let’s just put it this way. They aren’t so conclusive that I would vote to convict her if I were on a jury, but they do leave you scratching your head.
Overall this is the main difference between the doc and the drama. Carole is the hero of the drama while in the doc, she’s painted as just one more weirdo in the world of big cats.
John Cameron Mitchell provides a decent caricature of Joe though one wonders why David Spade, who looks, sounds and has even sported Joe’s mullet in his Joe Dirt character, didn’t get the part he was literally born to play. At least Dean Winters, who made a career playing obtuse, blissfully unaware characters who truly believe they are more awesome than you when they clearly aren’t, won the role he was born to play in Jeff Lowe.
STATUS: Shelf-worthy but unnecessary. You’ll watch it but wish you hadn’t…not that its bad but just because time on earth is so limited and you could have done so many other things.