Why Does Joe vs. Carole Exist?
By Ben Spaeth
Photo: Collider – Source
I recently watched the first episode of Joe vs. Carole and I have no idea who this show is for. Is it for people who are unfamiliar with Tiger King because it basically goes over what happens in Tiger King? But that doesn’t make sense because why would you watch this show if you’ve never seen Tiger King? Also why did we need another TV show of the exact same story, when the real one exists. Like it would make sense if this was a movie and had condensed the source material, but it's another mini series with the only difference being that it's fictional. Admittedly, Joe vs. Carole is 5 episodes shorter than Tiger King, but Joe vs. Carole doesn’t cover Doc Antle, which takes out a significant chunk of Tiger King’s runtime. Although Joe vs. Carole isn’t “directly” inspired by Tiger King, it is instead based off the Over My Dead Body Podcast: Joe vs. Carole, there is no doubt that events from the Netflix show made its way into the Peacock original. Perhaps my biggest issue with Joe vs. Carole is that it does little to create an identity for itself outside of the Netflix series. Which begs the question why does this show even exist?
Allegedly this show was in development before Tiger King was released on Netflix. Kate McKinnon said in a late night appearance that she was offered the role of Carole Baskin before Tiger King came out. The podcast that the show is based on was also released before Tiger King. This is likely another case of a studio buying the rights to an article to skirt name and life rights. Similar to what Hulu did with Pam & Tommy. Universal didn’t actually begin developing the project until the commercial success of Tiger King.
What I don’t understand is why NBCUniversal thought that a show based on a show would be a good idea. I know Tiger King mania was all the rage during the lockdown, but NBCUniversal had to have known that Joe vs. Carole wouldn’t come out until at least two years after the original. At this point the market for Tiger King content is incredibly oversaturated and the show's success was very obviously a fad. The plot of Tiger King is so ubiquitously known at this point that any retelling of the story just feels redundant.
Another issue I have is that in Tiger King, no one is particularly likable. In fact most of the people featured are downright awful human beings. Even Carole Baskin, who is the protagonist of Joe vs. Carole, isn’t all that great as she refuses to pay the volunteers at Big Cat Rescue, who basically do all the manual labor for her sanctuary and work for at least 4 hours a day. You also have to pay Big Cat Rescue $70 to become a volunteer. The point I’m making here is that these aren’t fun characters. Most of them are just predatory capitalists and in Joe Exotic’s case, an animal abuser. The idea of watching these two awful people dueling in a lighthearted fictionalized setting was doomed to fail from the beginning. This isn’t Seinfeld where the character’s terrible behavior only affects a fictionalized world. These are real people who have done terrible things.
This may be a bit of nitpick but another I have with the show is its name. Having vs. in the title of anything is almost always a bad idea. The only exceptions are legal shows and movies, The Mitchells vs. The Machines, and maybe Scott Pilgrim vs. The World depending on who you ask. All other versus movies and shows are terrible. Examples include Batman vs. Superman, Godzilla vs. King Kong, and Alien vs. Predator. If you’re gonna have versus in the title at least be clever and don’t do the cliché iconic character vs. iconic character. I know the title of the podcast was Joe vs. Carole, but they were under no obligation to keep that name. If anything the name contributes to the corniness of the show.
To end this article on a lighter note. There are a few aspects of the show that I genuinely liked. Kate McKinnon gives a great performance as Carole Baskin. You can really tell she was passionate about playing the character. Unfortunately her material isn’t all that great. Some of the best parts are when they just allow McKinnon to improvise. Like in one scene where Carole is preparing to film a video to send a video to a slew of animal rights groups, she sits in front of the camera trying to figure out an intro. While I’m not certain the various intros McKinnon tries were improvised, they certainly have an improvised feel to them. Although the moment is somewhat squandered when you realize that they’re just trying to show you how Carole came up with the phrase, “Hey all you cool cats and kittens.”
As for whether this show falls into the so bad it’s good category it’s a bit of a toss up. Personally I find the show boring because of its lack of originality which doesn’t make for a good hate-watch experience. However, there’s a lot of goofy stuff going on with some of the filming techniques and framing which could be fun on the hate-watch side if you’re into examining film techniques. Ultimately though, I don’t think the 7 hour runtime on this series is conducive to a healthy hate-watch.