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Five Better Ways Netflix Could Have Capitalized on Tiger King

No one seems to want Tiger King 2. Here's what we'd do instead.
  • Image: Netflix
    Image: Netflix

    When Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness first debuted in March 2020, no one could predicted that it would become a global phenomenon unlike anything Netflix had ever seen. The seven-episode docuseries went on to spawn a Joel McHale-hosted aftershow, sundry cable specials, a scripted series starring Kate McKinnon as Carole Baskin, and now, a five-episode sequel from original directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin.

    Given the frenzy surrounding Tiger King, Netflix’s decision to commision a sequel was a foregone conclusion, and yet by all accounts it would appear to be an extremely ill-advised project. The Tiger King 2 announcement was met with widespread disdain from critics, while Baskin’s campaign against the sequel — she filed a lawsuit against Netflix for using old footage of her in Season 2 — and Joe Exotic’s presumed absence have only contributed to the air of futility around the endeavor.

    Whether Tiger King 2 proves the naysayers wrong remains to be seen, but it’s a fairly safe bet that it won’t reach the same heights as its predecessor. With that in mind, here are five Tiger King-adjacent projects that would have been more interesting (and more respectful of viewers’ time) than Tiger King 2:

    1. A Live Q&A With Joe Exotic

    Joe Exotic gives a prison interview in Tiger King 2. (Photo: Netflix)

    With Joe Exotic serving a 22-year prison sentence for an alleged murder-for-hire plot against Carole Baskin, his involvement in Netflix’s Tiger King 2 will be limited. The trailer does feature jailhouse calls and grainy footage of the disgraced zoo owner in prison, but all indications are that the sequel will focus primarily on the people “from the zoo out there making money,” as Exotic puts it, off the viral success of the show, including Jeff Lowe, businessman-turned-FBI informant James Garretson (the dude on the jet ski), and alleged hitman Allen Glover.

    Netflix can pretend these people are just as interesting as Exotic, but no one is buying it — and that’s why the Tiger King franchise would benefit from holding out for its big kahuna. Viewers want to see Joe Exotic in all his unhinged, bizarre glory, and what better way to do that than in a live Q&A event where Exotic is forced to answer on the spot, without any help from Tiger King's editors or his lawyers (not that he'd listen to them anyway)? Carole Baskin may be engaged in her own legal battle with Netflix, but it's hard to imagine her passing up the opportunity to grill Exotic about their years-long beef, so this could be fans’ only chance to see the two face-off, unfiltered.

    2. A Transparent-Style Musical Finale

    This shirt would obviously play a key role in Tiger King's musical sequel. (Photo: Netflix)

    At its core, Tiger King is more of a spectacle than an actual docuseries (more on that to come). Rather than waste viewers’ time by rehashing the disappearance of Baskin’s first husband, Don Lewis, and the residual drama surrounding the zoo, Netflix could lean into the inherent theatricality of its major players and stage a feature-length musical event, à la Transparent’s “Musicale Finale.” In 2019, the two-hour musical was conceived as a way to handle the departure of star Jeffrey Tambor, who was fired after sexual harassment allegations were made against him; in the finale, his character, Maura, dies, and her family members attempt to cope with their grief through song. The format may be different, but what is Tiger King 2 if not Netflix's attempt to carry on the legacy of a series whose time has clearly passed?

    We can see it now: Jeff Lowe and his wife Lauren, dripping in bedazzled tiger bling, singing about their newfound wealth, as a lifejacket-wearing Garretson puts a 2021 spin on Exotic’s “Carole Baskin, killed her husband, whacked him” line. Tiger King may not be scripted (even if its stars have said much of it is fake), but if it meant more money and more exposure, here's betting this motley crew would eagerly agree to their very own musicale finale.

    3. A Tribunal Where Tiger King’s Filmmakers Are Forced To Defend Their Decisions

    Much has been written about Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin, and the big cat industry, but Tiger King mania tends to ignore its filmmakers’ inability to control their narrative. At any given moment, Tiger King tries to be a docuseries about big cat conservation; a mulleted, gun-toting, polygamist zoo owner; a decades-old disappearance and potential murder; sexual abuse and manipulation; animal abuse; and s political campaign gone wrong. It’s as if directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin weren’t sure which angle to pursue, so they just threw them all in to up the WTF-ness of the show. In that regard, they succeeded, but they failed to produce a series that explains why and (in many cases) how any of these things occurred.

    So, in the spirit of ethical storytelling, why not force Tiger King’s filmmakers to defend their choices? We'd love to know why they portrayed Joe Exotic, who we see abuse his animals and employees, as a sympathetic figure. Why does the series bring up Doc Antle’s sexual and emotional manipulation of his employees, and then move on, never to mention it again? And what, if anything, do they see as the larger purpose of their series?

    4. A Drag Race “Snatch Game” Challenge

    If there’s anyone who can truly capture the over-the-top appeal of Tiger King’s characters, it’s RuPaul’s “fierce-ass queens.” Every season RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants put their celebrity impersonation skills to the test in a “Snatch Game” challenge, which sees the queens transform into celebrities from history and pop culture. Shockingly, no one has picked Joe Exotic or Carole Baskin stateside (as seen above, a competitor on Drag Race Holland has), but if Netflix were to go down this route, it could require the queens to split up into two teams for an Exotic vs. Baskin cage match, with one contestant from each team being declared the best of the bunch. Winning Drag Race is one thing, but winning a Drag Race/Tiger King crossover? That's must-see TV!

    5. A Ten-Year Follow-Up Documentary

    Jeff Lowe's story is a focal point of Tiger King 2, but does anyone really care what he has to say? (Photo: Netflix)

    Apart from Carole Baskin assuming ownership of Joe Exotic’s former zoo, very little has actually changed since Tiger King debuted last spring, which is a large reason why Netflix’s sequel feels so unneeded. Rather than try to gin up excitement about tertiary figures like Jeff Lowe and James Garretson, Netflix would be better off just… doing nothing. For a while, at least: if the streamer were to wait a decade or so, filmmakers would have much more information to include — is Joe Exotic still in prison? What’s the status of the zoo? Has there been a break in the case of Baskin’s missing ex-husband? A ten-year delay would also give viewers enough time to feel nostalgic about the Tiger King phenomenon and its impact on our collective early-COVID experience, a sentiment that’s difficult to come by as the pandemic continues to ravage communities.

    There’s one more benefit of waiting ten years to develop a sequel: by that point, everyone will have moved on from Tiger King, and Netflix can choose whether or not to move forward based on the merits of the story. If there's no there there, they can save face and we can all enjoy our lives free of more Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin.

    Tiger King 2 premieres Wednesday, November 17 on Netflix.

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    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, Netflix, Carole Baskin, Joe Exotic