This week sees the premiere of a new frontrunner for the most pointless project ever committed to screen.
Now, while feels hard to believe that it was less than two years ago than Netflix’ (opens in new tab)s jaw-dropping Tiger King (opens in new tab) delved deep into the near-murderous rivalry between self-aggrandising zookeeper Joe Exotic and kooky animal rights activist Carole Baskin, it really has been that long.
Now, although the pair's strange antics kept us all gripped for a while in the first weeks of lockdown, things have moved on and opened up. That leads us to ask, did the world need Joe Vs Carole, an eight-part dramatization of the story? Probably not.
That's especially true when you consider that last year’s underwhelming follow-up barely caused a ripple in the media and even Amazon, a platform that’s invested $1 billion in adapting a Lord of the Rings timeline (opens in new tab)that J.R.R. Tolkien considered too tedious to actually write about, recognized that there wasn’t much mileage left in the story and abandoned plans for their own Tiger King drama starring Nicolas Cage last summer.
So what does that mean for Joe Vs Carole? Peacock's (opens in new tab)new take on the drama with John Cameron Mitchell and Kate McKinnon in starring role. Well, it already feels like its a long way behind the curve. And, weirdly, doesn't take its story from Netflix's documentary, instead it is actually based on the second season of the Over My Dead Body podcast. (opens in new tab)
Creator Etan Frankel, whose credits include the US remake of Shameless and Animal Kingdom, has promised that viewers will see its array of oddballs in a whole new light. Does he deliver on his promise? Not really...
Lacking any bite...
If you've not seen Tiger King on Netflix, or you want to go in cold to Joe Vs Carole, then are some minor spoilers below:
To give it some credit, the show does fill in some of the typically bizarre gaps that Netflix's Tiger King missed in telling Joe and Carole's stories.
We get to see Joe’s first encounter with a large cat, the moment Carole walked out on her abusive first husband after hitting him with a potato and the show does give airtime to the tragic end of Joe’s previously ignored 15-year relationship (Brian Rhyne died of complications from AIDS in 2001) as well as the constant homophobia he faced. This does elicit some sympathy, but that’s soon eroded by his treatment of everyone, both animal and human, in his inner circle. Carole’s flashbacks, meanwhile, suggest that she’s always been the plucky, free-spirited and occasionally disarming individual we’ve since seen cutting free on Dancing with the Stars.
However, the key moments, the horrific accidental death, the arson and Joe’s increasingly misogynistic vendetta were all covered extensively in the original. It’s hard to imagine why anyone who hasn’t yet succumbed to the trashy lure of Tiger King would decide to watch the scripted version instead. Still, that’s the only demographic that Joe vs. Carole will offer any real surprises to.
Don’t expect to learn much more about the fate of Carole’s missing second husband, for example. The meat grinder theory, cleverly hinted at in a well-crafted production-to-table montage that could have been lifted from Better Call Saul, is given short shrift (“You can’t fit a person in there. You can’t even fit a hand!”). And only the final ten minutes address how the two protagonists responded to becoming a cog in the Netflix machine.
That said, those who already know the ins and outs of the outlandish tale may well be kept entertained by the pitch-perfect performances. We can’t imagine Joe vs. Carole bothering any other category at the next Screen Actors Guild Awards but it certainly deserves a nod for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series.
Best-known for creating cult musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, John Cameron Mitchell nails the self-described “gay, gun-carrying redneck with a mullet,” flitting between unhinged bravado, wicked manipulation and crippling insecurity from the moment we first see him in his element – holding court at a travelling animal show (and in one of his many hairbrained schemes, spray-painting a sheep orange to cover for a sick tiger).
Perhaps inevitably, Kate McKinnon’s casting as Carole occasionally pushes the drama into the realm of extended Saturday Night Live sketch: see the amusing montage scene when the conservationist eventually stumbles upon her catchphrase of “hey, all you cool cats and kittens.” But in among all the leopard print outfits, floral headpieces and overly earnest pep talks (“I really feel like I was put on this Earth to rescue cats”), McKinnon also paints Carole in a far more sympathetic light than Tiger King producers afforded her. The moment she realizes social media has made her the villain of the piece rather than her hitman-hiring nemesis further brings home how much the show did her wrong.
It's all a bit toothless...
Kyle MacLachlan also gets the unassuming manner of Carole’s husband Howard down to a T, while Sam Keeley and Nat Wolff impress as the two young down-and-outs who find themselves caught up in the most unorthodox of throuples. Furthermore, Dean Winters is so convincing as Jeff Lowe, the creepy lothario who resembles a long-lost member of Limp Bizkit, that you have to double check the credits to make sure it’s not the real terrible thing.
Frankel has fun with an on-the-nose soundtrack too – Carole makes her entrance to ABBA’s lesser-known Tiger, while more obvious cuts such as Tom Jones’ What’s New Pussycat and Katy Perry’s Roar play over key moments. And a number of dream sequences and flights of fancy – including Joe turning his trial into a laser-filled one-man show – give the series a stronger visual flair than all the original camcorder footage.
It’s just a shame that all this effort hasn’t gone into a story that hasn’t already been told on several occasions and in such a short space of time too. You could also say it’s questionable to continue shining the spotlight on a megalomaniacal convict who, as shown in the final minutes, thrives on notoriety. Indeed, the man born Joseph Allen Schreibvogel will no doubt be thrilled at getting the Hollywood treatment. But for everyone else, Joe vs. Carole is the clearest sign yet that the streaming era is eating itself.
Joe vs. Carole is out now on Peacock in the US a (opens in new tab)nd NOW TV in the UK (opens in new tab) now.
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