March 2020 was basically just one long hiccup-punctuated ugly cry that could only be soothed by the pacifier that was Tiger King. Newly quarantined at home and still about a month away from buying sourdough starters and waiting for them to develop sentience, we discovered on Netflix an insistent nasal drawl that temporarily drowned out the chatter in our heads. Of course Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin’s crime documentary about the nutty world of big-cat enthusiasts was going to be a phenomenon. A besequined man with a bleached mullet sang us country songs whilst giving chin scritches to an apex predator. A blonde woman warmly nicknamed us her “cats and kittens,” and also owned a cluster of adorable felines who had just maybe digested her husband. A man, a Jet Ski, and the Survivor opus “Eye of the Tiger” proved that you only need three ingredients to achieve utter badassery. When the world felt incomprehensibly frightening, Tiger King spooned into our mouths a helping of manageable ludicrousness.
The new Tiger King 2 wastes no time in reminding us how much we needed its predecessor. “Hey,” it seems to whisper as it displays a montage of Joe Exotic–inspired TikTok dances, “COVID is still a thing, and you should probably still be staying at home a whole bunch, so why not revisit your wacky pals at the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park? Those guys were craaazy, huh?”
It’s not as though I don’t appreciate nostalgia, even nostalgia for something fairly recent that wasn’t particularly good. As somebody who is herself a little thirsty and gratuitous, I embrace television programs that possess similar qualities. But all the things that made the first iteration so watchable — our diversion-demanding pandemic panic very much included — are now shadows of their former selves. Carole Baskin declined to be interviewed for this one, the better to be ever available for Cameo recordings and dancing the paso doble in pink tiger-print palazzos, so we get only the odd YouTube video in which she reads diary entries from the ’90s in a dubious attempt at clearing her name. Joe Exotic gives occasional garbled sound bites through the phone lines of a Fort Worth prison, where he continues to serve his 22-year sentence for animal abuse and murder-for-hire. Fan favorites like Saff Saffery and the late Erik Cowie get woefully little screen time, and human Oakley cap Jeff Lowe gets way too much.
At five episodes — two and a Joel McHale special fewer than its forebear — Tiger King 2 feels more like a Hail Mary stab to resuscitate the public’s dying interest in cat crackpots than something made because there was anything new to report. All of the shockingly cavalier zoo owners from season one remain blithely unconcerned about their animals’ well-being. The 1997 disappearance of Carole’s former husband Don Lewis remains unsolved. Joe seems no closer to being out of prison than he was a year and a half ago. The whole thing reminded me of nothing so much as a reunion with some toxic old boyfriend who desperately wants to rekindle the flame, baby. What once seemed problematic but fun — necessary to your life, even — now looks like the seedy, misogynistic lapse in judgment that it was.
But in the sea of regret that you ever clung to such a hot mess for comfort, there are a handful of moments that will make you reminisce about the good times. There aren’t enough of them to keep your eyes glued to the television screen, not by any stretch of the imagination. But there may be enough of them to draw your attention briefly from whatever mind chatter November 2021 has brought you.
Dillon Passage Enters the Merch Game
I am delighted that this recap will be coming out just in time for the start of the holiday season, as it allows me to suggest the perfect gift for every member of your family. Lucky for shoppers inundated by choices, their favorite stud-meister Dillon Passage is single and ready to … tingle (forgive me). Free to do anything, anything at all, in this great big opportunity-laden land of ours, he’s opted to become a vendor for everybody’s favorite powder-room staple: “Tail Brightener.” Yes, consumers, it’s an anal bleach, despite Dillon’s first hypothesis that the product is meant to be used on the face. Dillon’s bleach dealer has some sage advice for all of us:
A Tiger’s Wish
Eric Love, founder of the Team Tiger campaign, has a modest goal: to “put the five-finger death punch” on Joe Exotic’s case by convincing the president to pardon the oh-so-wronged tiger monarch. It matters not that Eric lacks a law degree or any personal connection to Joe; he has a dream! And that dream appears to be … enlisting a couple of lawyers to do all the boring legal stuff while he emblazons animal prints on ever-larger vehicles and makes plans to corner one Trump or another at a luncheon.
The biggest of these mobile monstrosities, private plane Exotic One, whisks Eric and former GW Zoo employee John Reinke to Washington, D.C., so that they may display their “Pardon Joe Exotic” sign at the Stop the Steal protest. This, their optimistic mugs seem to convey, will be the thing that people remember about January 6, 2021. Even a Joe Exotic–hating Trump supporter repeatedly hurling the term “gutter slut” at them doesn’t ruin their good cheer; they’ll simply move a ways down the road. There’s still plenty of daylight left for good, quality sign-holding!
Finally, tired, but a good tired, Team Tiger departs the District of Columbia — only to receive a barrage of decidedly pardon-unrelated alerts on their phones. Over footage of rioters shattering the windows of the Capitol building, John Reinke, bless his soul, pipes up: “I hope our banner got noticed.”
Alan Schreier, World’s Most Agreeable Online Dater
Alan is the kind of amenable fellow you hope to match with on a dating site. No need to be coy with this fella about any husband-murdering scandals cluttering up your recent past! When he and Carole make an online connection in 1998, Carole immediately steers him toward a rather libido-killing magazine article about the mysterious disappearance of Don Lewis. First of all, good for Carole. Lead with the really bad stuff, I always say (my husband is one lucky guy). But it’s Alan who really shines in this passage. A man who can read such a damning article, glance back at a profile pic in which his potential paramour is nuzzling a jungle carnivore, and then shrug and give the relationship three years? “Good egg,” thy name is Alan.
Troy Griffin, Chicken Psychic
For all of its faults, Tiger King 2 will always be the program that introduced me to Troy Griffin, a “Christian, clairvoyant, empathic psychic medium and psychic detective” — and for this gift, I can never consider it truly worthless. Don Lewis’s daughters, weary after 23 years of vague “meh, maybe Carole did it” responses regarding their lost parent, enlist Griffin to determine what happened to the man. Upon arriving at one of Don’s properties, Troy immediately senses “bad juju” and runs off into the foliage to dry-heave.
Later, he sits slumped over on a curb, rattled from his visions and soaking up comfort from Donna, the actual daughter of the actual dead person. He then spots some empty Styrofoam chicken packaging sitting at the base of a nearby porta-potty. “Did you guys notice I’ve been talking about chicken all day?” he asks tremulously. Donna, heartsick for answers about a long-missing loved one, squeezes the shoulders of the dude she has paid to give her solace, a man now babbling about an outhouse-adjacent poultry container. “Okay, okay, all right,” she murmurs. “I’m going to take a look at it.”
Howard Baskin — Bad Impressionist, or Best Impressionist?
A woman can have many good matches during a lifetime. She can even find the kind of A1-quality match that would allow her to house her bobcat in his bathroom. (I’m looking at you, Alan, you glorious mensch, you.) But there’s only one soul mate for Carole, and that’s Howard Baskin. A cutup by nature, Howard can’t help but pull out his impressions for guests. During the end credits of episode three, we see Howard slip on a du-rag so that he may best perform his nuanced impersonation of Jeff Lowe for the filmmakers. “My name is Jeff Lowe,” Howard says in his dry Howard voice. “I just want you to know, I am not just the sexiest man in the exotic-animal industry. I am the sexiest man in the world — maybe in the history of the world.” Beside him, Carole giggles like a besotted schoolgirl, and I can’t blame her. I too would be head over heels for a man who, as a bit, would put on the signature headwear of my enemy and then made a vaguely cutting remark about him.
Zuzana Kokol, My New Patronus
I’ve just “met” Zuzana Kokol, and already I would follow this woman into battle. A big-cat enthusiast who asserts that she is an “Eastern European bitch” who is “rarely wrong,” Zuzana basically traipses into the docuseries just long enough to feed a lion his “yum yum,” criticize Jeff Lowe’s cat-care abilities, and characterize the leather-clad zoo owner with a phrase I immediately want stitched on an Etsy sampler: “He promises [people] probably heaven on earth, and then he fucks them over without lubrication from behind with a wire brush.” In total, Zuzana appears in about three minutes of Tiger King 2. They are the best three minutes of Tiger King 2.
Joe Develops Deep Soul Connections With Midriffs
Joe Exotic isn’t the type to mope around after a paramour dumps him for a bright (ha!) future in butthole lighteners. Instead, he launches a “Bachelor King” contest to locate his next true love, who will most definitely be close to his age and living within visiting distance — ha, psych! The winner is Seth, an abdominally blessed 24-year-old from Arkansas whom Joe has never met! As Joe coos about his and Seth’s meaningful bond, Tiger King 2 slyly shows us a photo of Seth’s sun-kissed six-pack. If Seth sticks around long enough to be interviewed for the inevitable Tiger King 3, I hope to learn about his and Joe’s shared interests over an artful collage of Seth’s gluteus at different stages of flex.