Why I Stopped Watching 'Joe Vs. Carole' After Only 1 Episode

Joe vs. Carole Kate McKinnon Carole Baskin Peacock
Mark Taylor/Peacock

It’s finally here. The first dramatized rendering of the saga that swept away the universe in 2020 has arrived. Two years after that initial pandemonium, Peacock has unleashed “Joe vs. Carole,” a theatrical rendering of Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin’s claws-out war over the tiger world. The tale is ripe for primetime, but I stopped watching after 1 episode.

Yes, you read that correctly, and you are probably wondering why. Peacock’s “Joe vs. Carole” is based on Season 2 of the Wondery (also responsible for “Dirty John”) podcast “Over My Dead Body” podcast. (Season 1 is a must-listen.) That is an essential piece of information for those thinking they are about to embark on a “Tiger King” inspired TV miniseries.

That infamous Netflix docuseries took a look at every angle of the real-life tiger tale, “Joe vs. Carole” clearly has an agenda. It would not surprise me in the least if Carole Baskin were a secret executive producer on it. After all, Episode 1 is overtly sympathetic to Baskin. It portrays her as a big cat savior while ignoring her own history of buying exotic cats as pets not to “rescue.”

This hypocrisy is readily noted in “Tiger King” yet left out in “Joe vs. Carole,” which firmly asserts itself in Carole’s corner. “Saturday Night Live” veteran Kate McKinnon’s spot-on casting/performance automatically provides subliminal empathy to Carole’s plight. McKinnon oozes charisma, and the same goes for casting the ever-likable Kyle MacLachlan as Carole’s ever-enabling husband, Howard.

In the opposing corner is John Cameron Mitchell, who takes on Joe Exotic - a role that is truly larger than life. If “Joe vs. Carole” teaches us anything, it is that real life cannot only be stranger than fiction. It can also be more entertaining. The real Joe Exotic’s eccentric and intriguing shadow looms larger than “Joe vs. Carole” might have been prepared to admit.

In that vein, my biggest problem is that the construct of this rendering leans too mightily in favor of Baskin to claim objectivity legitimately. “Joe vs. Carole” does not just ignore Carole’s hypocrisy either. The first episode claims that Carole eagerly awaits the day that she can say goodbye to her lucrative money-making enterprise of rescuing big cats. Seriously?

“Joe vs. Carole” works overtime to build sympathy for someone that “Tiger King” took a deep and revealing dive into in its first and second season. It revealed more about Carole Baskin, and lest we forget that “Tiger King” Season 2 unraveled the supposed murder-for-hire plot. In a massive blow, key witnesses, who had alleged their involvement and intimate knowledge of the plot, admitted they made it up.

Of course, television often prefers its heroes and villains. It makes for a straightforward story. Real-life is far more complex. It is okay to admit that there are people who are flawed on both sides of an issue. “Joe vs. Carole” needs to be honest, and it seems unwilling to do that in its first episode. Speaking of which, why is John Reinke portrayed as a single amputee? 

In real life, he is a double amputee, and Reinke did not lose his limbs in a zip-line accident. Instead, it was a bungee jumping tragedy. Why purposefully misrepresent these known facts? And why is Joe’s first husband not introduced in the first episode? Does he show up eventually? These are vital facts and figures in the “Joe vs. Carole” story, and here is another one. It is the presentation of Joe Exotic himself.

Joe Exotic is one of the wildest cats ever to be captured on-camera. The story that unfolds in “Tiger King” is accordingly feral beyond belief. Exotic is genuinely a one-of-a-kind force to be reckoned with on-screen. “Joe vs. Carole” fails to capture the electricity of the enigmatic, in-your-face, quirky, off-the-wall world that he inhabited and created. Without the real Joe, there is no show.

On a separate note, I am curious why the show went with CGI instead of puppet tigers. Do not get me wrong. The CGI looks pretty good here. However, unlike dragons in “Game of Thrones,” fur is trickier to pull off. There is something to be said for seeing a tangible object interacting with the actors. Would “Jaws” have scared as many people back in the day if he were CGI? I doubt it.

If you want to watch it, the first episode of “Joe vs. Carole” is streaming on Peacock basic. The entire 8-episode run is available to binge for Peacock Premium subscribers right now alongside “Marry Me.”