Big cat to big mess: ‘Tiger King 2’ loses its thunder

Photo of a still from Tiger King
Netflix/Courtesy

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Grade: 2.5/5.0

It’s been just over a year since Netflix’s “Tiger King” took the world by storm. The infamous Joe Exotic and Carol Baskin feud eclipsed social media when most of the country was struck by the beginnings of quarantine fever, and the series — with its eccentric and over-the-top subjects— provided much-needed escapism. Now, in 2021, Netflix is shooting to revive the popularity of the series with “Tiger King 2,” a continuation and expansion on the world built in the first season.

The show picks up amid the turbulence of the 2020 presidential election, with its titular subject now in prison following his conviction of murder-for-hire and violation of federal wildlife regulations. For the majority of its opening episodes, directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin work to catch audiences up with everything that has happened since the first season, in addition to following up with some new faces working in the big cats universe. Most of the new season (which is only five episodes total) focuses heavily on these new subjects, most notably Tim Stark and his battle with the federal government to retain his exotic animals.

While the show’s first season was revered for looking carefully and methodically at the chaos surrounding its subjects, this vision is lost almost entirely in its second season. Viewers who return to the series will, of course, still find satisfaction from the laughable and absurd characters that are difficult to turn away from, but who are now plagued by the absence of any logical conclusion derivable from the mayhem.

On top of its loss of perspective, the show’s directors seem to have lost direction themselves. Painfully lacking focus, “Tiger King 2” mixes and matches unrelated storylines, making for a rather jarring watch. At once, the season appears like a reunion of sorts, checking up on its cast of wild characters to see what they’ve been doing since the cameras stopped rolling. Yet, the season then confusingly transitions away from this mode of documenting and starts to look back at one of its first season’s main debacles: Baskin’s alleged murder of her husband. 

The show spends much time rehashing the events and speculation surrounding this allegation, which often feels like an unnecessary, exhausting recap of the show’s significantly more engaging first season. It lacks sufficient substance for viewers to discern actual truth from the situation, and even the season’s inclusion of interviewing familiar faces amounts to little new information. Here, the show starts to evoke an accusatory tone and loses the objectivity that held the first season together — in what seems like a poor attempt to reignite the drama that made the show go viral in 2020.

After re-exploring the mysterious disappearance of Baskin’s former husband, the show shifts once again and nearly altogether leaves behind its first season’s characters, now focusing more heavily on new faces in the exotic animals business. The most prominent figure the second season explores is Tim Stark, former owner of private Indiana zoo Wildlife In Need: He exudes chaotic energy similar to Exotic, yet he lacks the same charm and redeemability. In part due to Stark’s belligerence, the back half of “Tiger King 2” plays out like a dumpster fire that’s hard to look away from, which works to both the benefit and detriment of the series as a whole.

While it maintains watchability with some entertaining scenes, audiences lose the sense of a progressive or even meaningful storyline, which begs the question: What are Goode and Chaiklin trying to achieve with this second installment? Popularity seems to be the obvious answer, considering that the latest season does little to directly question or examine the ethics of the show’s subjects. Instead, “Tiger King 2” is a passive observance of comedic disarray, giving no new insight and taking too few risks.

As a casual viewing, “Tiger King 2” can easily impress and capture the attention of many who are merely looking for the same escapism the first season offered. To those looking for anything genuinely valuable from the series, they will likely be disappointed at Netflix’s lack of originality and perspective.

Contact Ryan Garay at [email protected].