Launching on Peacock via Sky this Friday, Joe vs Carole is the first of many projects based on the story of Netflix's Tiger King series out of the gate.
Released on Netflix in March 2020, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness became an overnight success, drawing in an audience of over 34 million as the world went into lockdown.
This true crime documentary series focused on a close-knit community of big cat enthusiasts, including Carole Baskin and Joe Exotic. These larger-than-life characters formed the foundation for what would become a worldwide Netflix sensation.
Although it proved to be a hit with audiences, who were all hankering for content to see them through their pandemic isolation, Tiger King slowly gained momentum of its own, spawning two more seasons in the process.
Read more: Joe vs Carole first look
With hired hitmen, animal liberation groups and a battle royale between Baskin and Exotic keeping things interesting, it was only a matter of time before Tiger King got dramatised. What audiences will be wondering going in, with the imminent release of Joe vs Carole on Sky, is whether they should have left well enough alone.
Watch a trailer for Joe vs Carole
What becomes apparent about Joe vs Carole early on, is the commitment to character which everyone brings. Kate McKinnon, who is best known for Saturday Night Life and the unfairly maligned female-led Ghostbusters reboot, pulls out all the stops as Carole Baskin.
By delivering a pitch perfect portrayal which veers just shy of caricature, she imbues her with genuine humanity and allows room for flashes of pathos. However, there is more to this performance than sincere artistic imitation or exaggerated behavioural quirks, as McKinnon also brings out a degree of tragedy which will catch some off guard.
By employing a narrative structure which naturally leans into flashback, audiences are given sporadic glimpses into the events which came to shape Carole Baskin. It is in these moments that Joe vs. Carole comes to life, grounding these walking talking caricatures in a world which is both relatable and emotionally on point.
Past transgressions come to mould perspective, as overbearing husbands and abusive relationships help define her cast iron resolve. For better or worse this is the Carole Baskin which emerges, giving McKinnon an opportunity to really shine through in this deceptively strong character study.
In the opposite corner under a bleached blonde barnet and heavily tattooed torso, audiences will find something equally ambiguous in John Cameron MitchelI. Having played everyone from Andy Warhol in HBO’s short lived series Vinyl to Hedwig, in the cult classic Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Mitchell has earned his stripes playing unique people.
Joe Exotic is no different, being by turns both a foulmouthed instigator and nurturing cat lover with honourable intentions. Something which makes him infinitely intriguing as a person in direct opposition to Carole Baskin.
Over the course of this series Cameron Mitchell makes sure to consistently ground his flamboyant creation, by tapping into inherent insecurities. Any and all relationships which are depicted in Joe vs Carole are dealt with carefully, making sure that the humanity beneath his bravado remains intact.
Read more: Everything new on Sky in March
Key to the success of this can also be attributed to Sam Keeley and Nat Wolff, who play love interests opposite Mitchell. As John Finlay and Travis Maldonado respectively, both ensure that Joe Exotic is granted more emotional depth, while Mitchell is generous in his moments opposite them on screen.
However, beyond the carefully considered character studies upon which this series depends, there are a few issues which distract. Firstly, there is the matter of VFX which allow these actors to interact convincingly with wild animals.
On a few occasions it is obvious that they are computer generated, meaning that people may find themselves looking elsewhere at crucial moments. Although these instances are rare it is worth pointing out, because when real animals are used in shot the difference is immediate and off putting.
Other more fundamental concerns come down to the fragmentary nature of this story, which means that momentum is lost. Segues between the past and present are seamless, but there are examples where scenes just seem to stop for no reason. This may have more to do with essential network advertising breaks, than any conscious choice on the part of creator Etan Frankel, but it does slow things down unnecessarily.
Those minor grumbles aside, Joe vs Carole has succeeded in taking a left field piece of intellectual property and fashioning something inherently dramatic from it.
For fans of the Tiger King phenomenon this will make for an interesting companion piece, as well as acting as a reminder to audiences that Kate McKinnon is something special.
All eight episodes of Joe vs Carole will stream on Peacock from 4 March, exclusively on Sky and NOW.