Sunday, April 12, 2020

Tiger King's new episode is a big disappointment

Tiger King, the 7-episode documentary series on Netflix about now-imprisoned big cat park owner Joe Exotic, has been hotly discussed since it debuted on the streaming service in March. Now, in the wake of its enormous success, Netflix has added what's listed as a 'new episode'. The Tiger King and I is an aftershow-like series of interviews with people featured in the documentary, hosted by Community's Joel McHale. 

While we appreciate Netflix's attempts to extend a story that's gripped everyone as they've been stuck indoors during a global lockdown, The Tiger King and I feels thrown together and, as a result, is not very good.

As you'd expect for something filmed in the last few weeks, McHale hosts it from his couch, and conducts video calls with key players from the series. They include zoo owner Jeff Lowe and his wife Lauren, memorable park employee Saff, and Joe Exotic's former husband John Finlay, who looks fantastic here after a makeover. 

These interviews run back-to-back, with McHale asking mostly lighthearted but occasionally insightful questions. He gets an interesting answer from Finlay on how he felt the show misrepresented him, and he gets Saff to share how he now trusts the tiger that attacked him more than he trusts Joe Exotic. We're paraphrasing, there, but it's a great soundbite. 

Otherwise, this is pretty lightweight and forgettable. Big Cat Rescue owner Carole Baskin is a notable absentee, which is understandable when you read this Tampa Bay Times interview about her feelings on the show and how it represents her. 

To be fair to Baskin, too, McHale gives the Lowes the chance to offer their unsubstantiated opinion on what happened to Baskin's former husband Don Lewis, which doesn't seem like a responsible use of his platform. 

McHale's presenting style means the interviews flip from the silly to the extremely serious without much of a pause. In fact, if you want a sample of the tone McHale is going for in this episode, just check out this video promoting his Tiger King special:

We can't blame Netflix for trying to extend people's interest in Tiger King, and the fact that this special looks so cheap is absolutely not something you can hold against anyone, given the limitations of TV production right now. 

It's just that the whole thing has the feel of a slapped together freelance assignment: McHale throws out a few breezy questions that sound like they could've been dropped into a Google doc with about 10 minutes' notice, and the resulting show offers less insight than the 'where are they now?'-type articles doing the rounds in the wake of the show's success (this excellent New York Times piece, for example). 

In years to come, viewers will remember Tiger King as that fever dream of a documentary series that we all watched together during an unprecedented global quarantine. Maybe there is more of a story to tell with some of the people in this show, but Netflix's latest smash hit deserves a little better than this forgettable epilogue. 

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