‘Tiger King’ Revisited: 5 Things We Learned in the New Episode

“The Tiger King and I,” a new follow-up installment Netflix dropped on Sunday, was mostly a brief reunion with some of the series’s colorful characters. But there were a few revelations.

John Finlay in “The Tiger King and I,” a follow-up to the wildly popular documentary series.
Credit...Netflix

This includes spoilers for the new follow-up special for “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness”

Hey, all you cool cats and kittens! Inspired by the phenomenal response to its bizarre documentary series “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” Netflix dropped a new “after-show” episode on Sunday called “The Tiger King and I,” hosted by the comic actor Joel McHale.

Anyone in search of a serious critical evaluation of the criminal case against the flamboyant Joe Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic — including his part in the attempted murder-for-hire of Carole Baskin — might want to look elsewhere. However, if all you want is a brief reunion with some of the zookeeper’s colorful colleagues, pull up a chair. Here’s what did and what didn’t happen when Erik Cowie, John Reinke, John Finlay, Kelci Saffery, Joshua Dial, Rick Kirkham and Lauren and Jeff Lowe reconvened to offer their thoughts on the dethroned, declawed Tiger King and the most-watched documentary — so far — of the quarantine era.

Despite criticism that Saffery, a trans man better known as Saff, had been misgendered in the Netflix documentary, Saffery himself was indifferent. “I don’t think it bothered me as much as it bothered everybody else,” he said. “I didn’t really pay it any mind.”

More upset were Dial; Joe Exotic’s campaign manager during a quixotic run for governor of Oklahoma; the zoo worker Cowie; and Maldonado-Passage’s former husband Finlay, who all objected to insinuations that they used drugs, specifically methamphetamine.

“I was portrayed as a drugged-out hillbilly,” Finlay said. “At that time, I was four to five years clean.”

Lowe was unhappy about the negative way in which he’d been portrayed. “They tried to sensationalize the story a little to give it a villain,” he said. But McHale treated Lowe more like an appealing antihero, asking him about his family’s nanny, who’s attained her own renown in the wake of the docuseries, and his abundant leather jackets. And McHale let Lowe slide on his past criminal activity, which includes federal mail-fraud charges and charges related to the illegal exotic animal business in Las Vegas that was mentioned in the series.

Wonder why Carole Baskin or Bhagavan “Doc” Antle didn’t appear in the after-show? Antle, in a series of Instagram posts, contended that the series was “sensationalized entertainment with paid participants” and was “more focused on shock value and titillation than fact.” And because of Baskin’s portrayal in the documentary, which repeats the theory that she fed her still-missing second husband to tigers, Baskin is no fan of “Tiger King.” She has written a 3,000-word rebuttal countering what she calls “lies and innuendos” with video, court documents and more. The after-show neglected to mention this.

Instead, McHale asked Lowe a leading question: “Did Carole kill her husband?” Said Lowe, “There’s no question in my mind that she did it.” (Police have never charged Baskin with being involved in her husband’s 1997 disappearance.) It is true that some of Baskin’s claims are in dispute, and that the case of her missing husband has been reopened by police (although many of the new “leads” they’ve received are from Netflix viewers speculating about septic tanks, meat grinders and tigers).

Neither James Garretson nor Allen Glover appears in the after-show. Maldonado-Passage recently filed a malicious prosecution suit, naming Lowe, Garretson and Glover among the co-defendants, claiming Lowe lied to the government and planted evidence against him. That wasn’t mentioned, either.

Image
Credit...Netflix/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Dial elaborated on the circumstances surrounding the death of Joe Exotic’s husband Travis Maldonado, who shot himself in 2017. It was an accident, not suicide, said Dial, who witnessed the shooting. He said that Maldonado wrongly thought his Ruger pistol wouldn’t fire if there was no clip in the gun, and that after jokingly pulling the trigger, Maldonado had a look of “surprise and fear” on his face. Dial wasn’t able to get counseling after witnessing the incident, but he’s trying to raise funds to do so now, he said. (Maldonado-Passage, Dial added, saw a shaman instead.) Kirkham, who did get therapy, told McHale that he’s still haunted by his time at the park. (“I still have nightmares today. I had nightmares last night.”)

Fictional portrayals of this story are already on the way. One limited series is set to star Kate McKinnon as Carole Baskin, and Ryan Murphy is contemplating a show with Rob Lowe playing Joe Exotic. Still others are volunteering their services on Twitter (Dax Shepard would like to play Joe, while Stephen Merchant has his eye on the role of Howard). McHale asked the documentary stars for their picks: Kirkham wanted Billy Bob Thornton, Reinke named Matthew McConaughey, and Saffery selected Brandon Baker. McHale himself suggested Ken Jeong to play Saffery. What’s a little age difference?

While some of the animals at the G.W. Zoo have found new homes, not all of the big cats in Joe Exotic’s care met a happy end. The former zookeeper was also charged with 17 counts of wildlife crimes, including illegally killing five tigers, a violation of the Endangered Species Act. Might there have been medical reasons for this culling?

“You would think, but no,” Cowie said. They were “beautiful, healthy tigers” according to Lowe, who said the tigers were shot to create cage space for incoming animals. Kirkham regretted not reporting witnessed killings, including other instances of animal cruelty. The best result of the “Tiger King” phenomenon, Kirkham said, is the attention now being paid to the issue of animal captivity.

“People are now going, ‘Free the animals,’” he said. “I think that’s the best thing.”