Story: As she has tried to trace how animals like lions, tigers, and even lemurs are being bought and sold in the world of private collections and roadside zoos, Carole Baskin (Kate McKinnon) has noticed one common thread at all the auctions, sales, and drop offs. A bleach blonde mullet keeps popping up in all the photos Carole finds and soon enough, she discovers that mullet belongs to Joe Exotic (John Cameron Mitchell), a colorful zoo owner and animal dealer. She quickly begins to direct problems toward Joe’s traveling animal showcase, which crimps his income and with his temper, he begins to fire back, asking for any dirt on Baskin, from any source. The rest is history, as Joe and Carole engage in a rivalry for the ages that includes viral videos, catchphrases, a Netflix series, and of course, murder for hire, all played out in front of the inexplicable background of exotic animal collectors and the offbeat, often creepy world they all inhabit.
Entertainment Value: The saga of Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin refuses to be buried, even after two Netflix limited series, countless documentaries, reality shows, podcasts, and more, so it is no surprise Peacock unleashed this dramatization of the Tiger King chaos. In this case, the real life events inspired a podcast series and that podcast series inspired Joe vs. Carole, so this has some elements the Netflix show didn’t cover, not to mention some dramatic license. In other words, while rooted in true events, this limited series dials up the drama and adds some spice when it needs to, though it all at least seems to fit within the scope of the actual events. I know some were disappointed that a lot of new ground wasn’t broken here, but I appreciated the looks into the backgrounds of Joe and Carole, even if they weren’t as deep of dives as I would have liked. I was here for pure entertainment and to see how the colorful characters were brought to life, so I wasn’t let down at all. Joe vs. Carole has some emotional beats and works to build some sympathy at times, but it doesn’t hold back as far as manic, over the top elements, which are in generous supply. This eight episode limited series is just an absolute blast and as long as you’re not burned out on this tiger’s tale, it is well recommended.
I’ve seen some complaints about the casting choices, but to me, Joe vs. Carole was masterful and just about everyone looks and sounds right, eerily so sometimes. I mean, a weathered Dean Winters is a dead ringer for Jeff Lowe, so the makeup and especially wardrobe team was on point. This carries over through just about the entire ensemble, with a pattern of a well chosen performer, great makeup, and wardrobe work that transforms them into the roadside zoo crew. John Cameron Mitchell is a tour de force as Joe Exotic, an absolute force of nature that spins up hot from his appearance and never slows down, nailing the manic, unpredictable energies of the Tiger King. He is loud, charismatic, and non stop energy, a pitch perfection rendition. While Kate McKinnon doesn’t have quite the look match that Mitchell does, she is close and again, makeup and wardrobe are just superb. McKinnon has the vibe down and the voice, not to mention the quirky mannerisms. The cast also includes Kyle MacLachlan, Brian Van Holt, Sam Keeley, and Lex Mayson.