We Didn't Need Another Season of 'Tiger King'—And We Should Feel Bad That It Exists

Tiger King Season 2 is out now on Netflix, and, quite frankly, it is a hot mess—so much so that it makes you reconsider why it was that you liked the original season in the first place.

Just like how an image of a Rubik's Cube instantly makes people of a certain age think of the 1980s, the image of Joe Exotic will forever be associated with the first wave of lockdowns due to the coronavirus. As we were all forced to stay in our homes, there was something appealing about escaping into this very strange world of murder, mayhem and mullets.

Things might have been bad with us (we definitely could empathise with those tigers in their cages), but at least we weren't having our arms mauled off or the subject of a murder plot involving being decapitated with razor wire.

However, once we came back out into the sunlight, many of us felt faintly embarrassed about being so briefly obsessed with the show, like it was a cheesy band we had been obsessed with as kids.

And if you weren't embarrassed by loving Tiger King before, then Tiger King 2 will definitely have you cringing, because it accidentally highlights the huge problems with the first season.

Tiger King was clearly not a show that required a second season. While the first installment tells a fairly complete story of the rise and fall of Joe Exotic and his zoo, ending with Joe Exotic in prison, the follow-up falls flat.

Sure, things have happened in the story since, but it's only been a year since the release of the original. The events that took place after that point have been so well documented by the press, Netflix is simply aggregating information we already know—from when Joe Exotic embarked on an ultimately doomed campaign to get a presidential pardon from Donald Trump, to when Jeff Lowe got his zoo taken away.

Even if the platform insisted on a second season, they could have at least condensed it into a single, hour-long special (though not the awful reunion we got in 2020) instead of dragging it out over five episodes.

Highlighting how little fresh content they had to offer viewers, the documentary makers added more padding than your grandmother's couch from the 1970s.

tiger king 2 joe carole
Carole Baskin and Joe Exotic in "Tiger King." "Tiger King 2" tells the next chapter of their stories. Netflix

At first, this padding is dull but unobjectionable. Most of the first episode is dedicated to how big the reaction was to the first season, all of which viewers will already know—after all, they were the ones who caused the stir (side note: Making a Murderer had this exact same problem).

Later, however, the padding gets more objectionable, especially in its treatment of Carole Baskin. Tiger King 2 makes a point of highlighting that Joe Exotic getting the world's support while Carole Baskin got its condemnation was fairly sexist. Only one of them has been found guilty by a jury of the crimes that Tiger King viewers think they may have committed, after all. And even if you do not believe Joe really hired a hitman to take out Carole, a court of law does and the evidence that he is guilty of the animal cruelty crimes he was sentenced for still exists.

After calling out the sexist double standard, however, the show then perpetuates the issue by traipsing back over the issue of Baskin's first husband, Don Lewis. Instead of moving past the unsubstantiated claims, the show features a number of armchair detectives talking about how they think that Baskin killed Don.

The show cannot have it both ways. It cannot say "isn't it awful that all these people are accusing Carole Baskin of murder" in one breath, and then feature amateur sleuths (who, to be clear, have not come up with any evidence for the authorities to charge Baskin) speculating on how she could have committed murder.

It was a mistake to give these true crime enthusiasts air time in the name of padding out the show. Rather than having actual evidence or reason, true crime enthusiasts, for the most part, read a few Reddit threads online and then have the hubris to think that they have uncovered what professionals who have spent years investigating have missed.

That said, there is some good stuff in Tiger King 2. The footage of the Free Joe Exotic people getting accosted at the January 6 rally-turned-insurrection is worth seeing, and there is genuine documentary value in the final episodes where the show brings us up to date on Jeff Lowe, Tim Stark and their fascinating brushes with the law—we would happily watch a whole series on Stark and what Lowe calls his "bipolar" personality.

However, the rest of Tiger King 2 plays like a rambling conspiracy theory that someone has given the glossy Netflix true crime graphic treatment.

The creative and ethical failures of Tiger King 2 cannot be entirely blamed on its makers, however: ultimately, Netflix has to shoulder the blame for it.

Previously, Tiger King production team member Dr. James Liu had criticised the direction in which Netflix had taken the original idea for the documentary. He told The Hollywood Reporter: "I went into this to explore a different side of the animal world in terms of wild animals in captivity.

"After spending years with these subjects the project moved in a different direction. Netflix is very adept at making binge-worthy television and with these larger-than-life subjects that was pretty easy to do. However, my goal is and has always been the same, which is to raise awareness and help save the species."

This chimed with statements made by Carole Baskin, who claimed that the show had been sold to her as similar to animal rights documentary Blackfish, but that the final goal was to make the show "being as salacious and sensational as possible to draw viewers."

Series co-director Rebecca Chaiklin responded to this to the Los Angeles Times by saying, "I would just say we were completely forthright with the characters. With any project that goes on for five years, things evolve and change, and we followed it as any good storyteller does. We could have never known when we started this project that it was going to land where it did."

While Baskin is not blameless in this process, she is right in her claims of the show feeling salacious and sensationalist. Especially in Season 2, with its bit part characters like the psychic detective who get introduced for us to ridicule, only to never be mentioned again.

Netflix seems to have been interested in a new Tiger King season at any cost to capitalise on the success of the first as quickly as possible—even if the result was a mess that made the first season look worse by comparison. This is especially the case if the reports that the second season was initially supposed to focus on a different set of big cat owners, the late Las Vegas icons Siegfried and Roy, are true.

A new topic, however, would have taken more time than Tiger King 2, which often feels like a mix of cut scenes from the first season and whoever they could film on the day. But more time between seasons does not help Netflix maximise subscriber revenue.

In general, Tiger King 2 speaks a lot to how Netflix has changed over the past few years, as they have moved from a model seemingly based on quality to one based on quantity. Seasons of reality TV are released within short time periods of each other, as this helps to bring in more subscribers—never mind that a show might have been better had they waited until they actually had enough to say in it to warrant it existing.