Tiger King came at the perfect time in March 20020: when viewers were bored in quarantine. But Tiger King 2 proves that Joe Exotic & Co. aren't as compelling when viewers aren't as desperate for entertaining TV options. "Watching the new installments of Rebecca Chaiklin and Eric Goode’s series now, in a world far removed from the one in which it first premiered, is surreal," says Caroline Framke. "The first episode almost entirely deals with the effect Tiger King had on its subjects, most of whom apparently spent the darkest days of the pandemic ignoring it completely and charging crowds of fans for selfies...It’s undeniably compelling to watch these already lurid characters react to their sudden fame, even if in a perverse sort of way." Framke adds: "After that meta first episode, though, this new season of Tiger King reveals the show for what it truly is, especially as it haphazardly explores the disappearance of Don Lewis. While it initially lucked into a charismatic cast that captured the nation’s attention at a truly unique moment in history, at its core, Tiger King is a middling true-crime series on a streaming service chock full of the same, that furthermore lacks the attention span to dig deeper into the crucial context of its many, many stories. Today, many of us are less confined to our homes, or at least have figured out better uses of our time since the extraordinary circumstances of last spring became rather more ordinary. Now that the circus has moved on, Tiger King is just no longer half as compelling a sideshow as it once was."
Tiger King 2 has a problem that often dogs the sequels to hit documentaries: "It is trying to scoop up confetti after the parade has already passed through," says Jack Seale. "(Joe) Exotic is in prison, so there are no fresh shots of him with his snaggly grin and straggly mane. Episode one gets round this by delving into his early life, positing that his narcissism was brought on by a family bereavement and the experience of growing up gay in the rural South. Baskin has refused to participate further, a decision slightly undermined by the fact that she has uploaded hours of footage of her reading from her diaries to YouTube. These clips form her appearances in episodes two and three, which re-investigate Don Lewis’s disappearance. Did he siphon money out of his businesses, away from his wife, and into a new life in Costa Rica? Did Baskin, as Joe Exotic and his followers assume, kill Don and feed him to the tigers? (She points out she has “never even been a person of interest, according to the sheriff’s department”.) Or is there another, equally wild explanation? In what is now the established Tiger King style, the analysis descends into an exhausting swamp of vulgar hearsay, one gaudy character after another making unverifiable claims about private planes, gangland grudges or vans full of guns."
Tiger King 2 is the pinnacle of reality TV cynicism: "It’s a crazily entertaining cast for a Tiger King reality show, but troublesome when used as sources in a murder investigation," says Lorraine Ali. "Baskin refused to participate in the follow-up, so they pulled footage from hours of her own uploaded YouTube videos and dropped that in the mix to create a damning narrative. The other 'case-cracking' aspects of the series revolve around the claim that Exotic was framed, but the evidence and testimonials are more like a three-ring circus fashioned out of leftovers from the original series. The most cynical bit of all? The series that barely explored the exploitation or abuse of animals, but canonized their keepers, ends on a conservationist note. Bigs cats seized from Lowe’s and Stark’s zoos now roam free at a wildlife rescue reserve. They are finally safe. Please! The franchise always put the king before the tigers, so we’re all of a sudden supposed to believe they care?"
Without much of an organizing philosophy, Tiger King 2 meanders from one subject to the next: "To watch it all in real time is to develop a serious headache," says Laura Bradley. "The composition of this 'docuseries' actively works against viewers coming away with a clear understanding of what really happened. A YouTube conspiracy theorist who at one point drags a pair of divers to an alligator-infested lake in Florida in a futile search for Don Lewis’ remains runs alongside noncommittal commentary from investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell. Almost every first-hand source in this series is compromised in one way or another, but such details are often revealed only after the sources advance their theories about what went down between Joe, Jeff, Carole, and everyone else involved in this big cat saga. At the core of all this is the question that, in many ways, defines our era: How far can these violent, obscenely-wealthy eccentrics take all of their antics? How many laws can they flout, and how many scams can they pull off before justice catches up with them—if it does at all?"
It’s hard to figure out what this second season is intended to be: "The first episode is the most promising one of the whole batch. It takes a larger look at the whole Tiger King phenomenon, recalling how the show swept across the United States during what turned out to be a very strange year for America and the world," says Noel Murray. "The episode captures the many ways that the documentary’s subjects became almost like fictional characters to the public, some of whom dressed up like Joe and Carole for Halloween, or fiercely debated the guilt or innocence of the series’ participants. Then episodes two and three change course, disappearing once again down the rabbit hole of the accusations against Carole Baskin, who — as covered fairly thoroughly in season 1 — has been suspected of foul play in the 1997 disappearance of her wealthy ex-husband Don Lewis. The new material adds little, except for fresh interviews with people who rehash a lot of the same information, in tedious detail. "
Tiger King 2 is true-crime at its flimsiest: "But if you enjoyed Tiger King season one enough to watch season two, then you’re probably just in it for the ride, not a careful, clear-minded excavation of what happened," says Jochan Embley. "The whole thing ends on a cliff-hanger about Exotic’s supposed crime and the people involved, which hints that season three could be on the cards. Hopefully, it isn’t; Tiger King has well and truly lost its bite."