It’s virtually impossible to catch lightning in a bottle — or a tiger cage — twice in a row.
When the docuseries “Tiger King” dropped on Netflix on March 20, 2020, it was exactly a week into America’s lockdown for the COVID-19 pandemic, making this bonkers true-crime tale a pop culture phenomenon, a distraction to the doom and gloom of our everyday lives.
This week, “Tiger King 2” arrives on Netflix with a five-episode second season that inherently lacks the spontaneity of the original, feeling more like a tacked-on batch of epilogues that don’t really teach us much more than following the developments online.
Filmmakers Eric Goode & Rebecca Chaiklin struggle to tell a cohesive story. While the original mostly followed the character arc of Joe Exotic with a few subplots of quirky side characters, “Tiger King 2” feels all over the place, throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, devoting entire episodes to different characters without much of a throughline.
Episode 1 focuses on activists urging former President Donald Trump to pardon Joe, spliced with footage of the Capitol siege Jan. 6. We also see Joe behind bars, now with darker bangs, after being sentenced to 22 years in federal prison for violating wildlife law and plotting a murder-for-hire scheme to kill Florida animal rights activist Carole Baskin.
Episode 2 goes all in on the Baskin conspiracies regarding her ex-husband Don Lewis, a Tampa millionaire who mysteriously vanished in 1997, leaving Baskin in sole possession of his fortune and collection of big cats. The episode further speculates whether Lewis fled to Costa Rica or whether Baskin had him killed, fed him to tigers, or dumped him in a swamp.
Episode 3 continues the Baskin story as Lewis’ grieving daughters seek the truth. Baskin recently sued Netflix to prevent the use of her footage in the sequel, but Netflix countered that she agreed in writing that the material could be used in the future. Earlier this year, WTOP interviewed Baskin, who denied the various murder accusations.
Episode 4 focuses on Jeff Lowe, who usurped Joe’s Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma. The show glamorizes Lowe’s hedonistic lifestyle, having him conduct interviews from a throne, while painting him as sleazy and untrustworthy as his associates accuse him of misdeeds, including hitman Allen Glover, who claims Lowe set Joe up.
Finally, Episode 5 wraps with the mounting legal problems of fellow zookeeper Tim Stark. He’s painted as bipolar, with his good side named Sue (after Johnny Cash’s “Boy Named Sue”) and his bad side going by Tim, who curses out reporters and court judges. As the feds haul away his wildlife, the message is clear: Animal abuse doesn’t pay.
It all culminates with images of tigers running free on sprawling wildlife sanctuaries, while the end credits dedicate the series to Erik Crowie, who was found dead Sept. 3 in Brooklyn from acute and chronic alcohol use. It’s a shame we don’t get to know Crowie better, or any of the fellow animal handlers, focusing instead on James Garretson’s infamous jet ski.
As for the main characters, we’re left with an unlikely alliance where “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” This no doubt sets up the potential for future seasons, but it’s now clear that this trashy soap opera has fallen from cultural phenomenon to tabloid curiosity.