There used to be an adage of the entertainment industry: leave them wanting more. Today, however, with all our endless franchises, offshoots, vanity vehicles and unprecedented levels of podcasts per person, culture runs more according to Duke Orsino’s instructions in the opening speech of Twelfth Night: “Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die.”
Witness the announcement of Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight, coming to Discovery+ in November. If we learned anything from the frankly tedious eighth episode of the series, The Tiger King And I – a series of Zoom interviews with the main players tacked on like a dating show catch-up after the original seven Tiger King episodes had become the only good thing about self-isolation and broken Netflix last March – it was that the drama had been entirely milked from the show in the original run. With the antihero of the piece in jail for 17 years and nobody having anything substantial to add beyond defending themselves against accusations of swindling, backstabbing, animal cruelty/trafficking and mariticide, Tiger King should have been released into the wild the second we were done with it.
Instead, unwilling to let go of an audience of almost 35 million like a big cat on a zookeeper’s arm, the circus rages on. A Louis Theroux documentary, Shooting Joe Exotic, added only a bumbling Britishness to the story. Series uncovering unseen footage from the show and Joe Exotic’s early life came and went virtually unnoticed. Several movie and TV dramatisations of the story have been announced, developed or shelved, with Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon set to play Carole Baskin and both Rob Lowe and Nicolas Cage variously attached to the Exotic role.
Exotic himself is writing an autobiography in prison and a second series of the show, Tiger King 2, airs on Netflix on November 17. The blurb promises “just as much mayhem and madness as the first season”, which seems unlikely. Subsequent plot twists have included Baskin gaining ownership of Exotic’s zoo, Exotic’s diagnosis with prostate cancer and split with Dillon Passage, Doc Antle’s indictment on 15 charges of wildlife trafficking and animal cruelty, the recent death of Erik Cowie and the Trump pardon that never came. Intrigue certainly, but not more than one or two episode’s worth. Unless Don Lewis is going to walk out of the shower a couple of hours in, we’re in for one big stripy anticlimax.
Hence, releasing to coincide with the new series, Baskin’s Cage Fight looks set to be painfully superfluous. The show promises to follow Carole and her team of detectives and Exotic insiders (Joe’s niece Chealsi is onside) as she forensically examines the zoo she’s acquired for evidence of the illegal slaughtering of tigers. Of course, this was established in the original series, and Exotic has already been convicted of it. The aim here, we can only presume, is to uncover proof of claims that Exotic killed hundreds of tigers and expose him as the Harold Shipman of zookeepers.
You can’t blame Baskin for wanting to put her side of the story in a series she has some control over. Tiger King made much of the questions around the disappearance of her husband Don in 1997 and didn’t hold back on allegations she might have fed him to her lions. On being asked to take part in the second series she apparently told producers to lose her number. She has a name to clear, a zoo to resurrect and the trauma of an (albeit shambolic) attempt on her life to get over.
As entertainment, however, Cage Fight doesn’t sound like riveting TV. Baskin’s ‘hey all you cool cats and kittens!’ on-screen earth mother persona certainly isn’t as compelling as Exotic’s shotgun-wielding mullet malevolence. This, remember, is someone voted off America’s Dancing With The Stars last year in episode three. If Exotic’s DIY TV channel came across as Tiswas on trucker speed, Baskin’s was so soppy it’d make the Hallmark Channel vomit up its lunchtime grandma-gin. Cage Fight is more likely to have the overall tone of a mildly macabre Springwatch than a seamy southern detective yarn.
More worrying still, it’s liable to open the floodgates on other cast spin-offs that might end up sounding like an Alan Partridge note-to-self: Rick Kirkham Investigates, Power Biking With Jeff Lowe, John Finlay: Biting Back. The sad fact is that one major hit now throws out so much time-sink detritus that the core greatness of the original show swiftly becomes buried beneath the dross. By year’s end, Tiger King stans will start to feel every bit as used and exploited as anyone paying £35,000 to watch some bloke dribble salt down his forearm onto a glorified steak pasty.
Anyway, 2021 is all about Squid Game. At least until it starts giving producers of The Cube ideas…