In Review

Tiger King 2 reviews: should Netflix have let sleeping cats lie?

Second outing of documentary labelled ‘tackier than a pound store peephole bra’

Few documentary projects have generated as much of a media circus in recent years as Netflix programme Tiger King. According to the streaming platform, the show was beamed into 64 million households in the first four weeks after its March 2020 release. 

The seven-episode series followed big cat breeder and zookeeper Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known by his alias Joe Exotic, and his rivalry with conservationist Carole Baskin, who runs the Big Cat Rescue animal sanctuary in Florida. 

By the end of the series, Exotic was speaking to filmmakers Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin from jail, after being convicted of plotting to have Baskin murdered. And while an appeals court ruled this summer that his sentence of 22 years for the failed plot and wildlife law violations should be reduced, Exotic clearly isn’t getting out any time soon.

That didn’t hobble the making of the much-hyped second series, released on 17 November. But with the Tiger King behind bars, can the sequel live up to the original, or – as Lauren Morris asked in the Radio Times – “should Netflix just let sleeping cats lie”?

Zoom interviews and archive footage

If you’re hoping “for another round of the Joe and Carole show”, prepare to be disappointed, said Morris. While Exotic does appear in this five-part series, all his interviews are recorded over Zoom from prison. 

There’s no fresh material featuring his arch rival either. Baskin told the Radio Times back in February that she’d been “misled” into taking part in the original “freak show” and would not be returning, so only archive footage of the big cat lover is shown. 

In an attempt to fill this “Exotic vacuum”, the filmmakers have dug up what The Telegraph’s Chris Bennion described as “a whole new conveyor belt of grifters, all happy to spout nonsense in exchange for some screen time”. 

Carol Midgley in The Times was equally unimpressed. “This new series is padded out with conspiracy theorists, an armchair detective called Ripper Jack and a vomiting psychic,” she wrote in a two-star review. “It’s all tackier than a pound store peephole bra.”

Lacking depth

As well as revisiting the fallout from the first series, the new season attempts “to provide some more context to Exotic’s life”, said Ed Cumming in a one-star review for The Independent. The sequel revisits the death of Don Lewis (Baskin’s second husband), and looks at what Jeff Lowe, who took over Exotic’s Oklahoma zoo, has done with the business.

All the same, said Cummings, this second outing often “feels like a self-congratulatory cuttings show”, or even “a didn’t-we-do-well lap of honour” for the streaming platform. “It’s all icky.”

On the other hand, wrote Morris in her three-star review, the new information that does come to light is “explosive”. The disappearance of Lewis is looked at “in a lot more depth” and even includes a “credible suspicion” that he may (spoiler alert!) be living in Costa Rica under a new identity. 

‘Somewhat satisfying’

If you’ve watched the first couple of episodes, it’s worth finishing the new series, according to The Times’ Midgley. Events gradually heat up “as people begin to revise what they told the court” during Exotic’s trial, leaving things looking “rosier” for the jailbird.

By the final episode, Exotic has also revised his image to that of “repentant sinner”, expressing regret for the inhumanity he inflicted on the big cats in his zoo. 

“After three years in prison I now know how my animals felt,” he said. “I feel ashamed of myself.”

It was worth watching season two “just to hear that”, Midgley concluded. 

Season three? 

Tiger King 2 has a “somewhat satisfying ending” that paves the way for a third season, wrote Morris.

Let’s hope not, said Fiona Sturges in her two-star review in the Financial Times. “What we are witnessing here is a streaming network cynically squeezing every drop out of a once grimly fascinating but now spent story,” she concluded.

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