If its aloof and earnest host is to be believed, Louis Theroux: Shooting Joe Exotic was totally going to be about said host, Louis Theroux, journeying to Texas during the COVID-19 pandemic to do a new documentary about Joe Exotic. Exotic appeared on one of Theroux’s documentary specials ten years ago and, since being convicted of multiple crimes and then becoming a folk hero for people who don’t think Covid is real, actually, thanks to the Netflix series “Tiger King,” wrote to have Theroux come and tell his side of the story.
Only Exotic—and many other people—all signed contracts with the hacks behind “Tiger King” and can’t talk to anyone but them for season two or whatever. Theroux gets to the United States and basically can’t interview anyone he thought he’d be able to interview. So instead, he talks to Carole Baskin (who “Tiger King” directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin implied murdered someone to make for compelling Netflix), some relatives of Exotic’s who aren’t getting Netflix money, and the lawyers trying to get Exotic pardoned. And lots of Theroux watching old footage of him and Exotic and musing on what he was or wasn’t thinking. And lots of Theroux reading correspondence aloud.
It’s never as interesting as it should be, partially because Theroux doesn’t really want to interrogate his past behavior, like when he eggs Exotic on about Baskin in the footage from ten years ago. Exotic’s in prison for trying to hire someone to kill Baskin (in addition to killing a bunch of animals at his zoo). Theroux just didn’t take Exotic’s rants about hiring someone to kill Baskin seriously. Seems like Theroux should do a Google search on his former interviewees to see what else he’s missed, especially given his track record with other past subjects.
There’s not much structure to Shooting. We find out whether or not Exotic gets pardoned, but not really any fallout from it because who’s Theroux going to talk to about it. Anyone not glad he’s still in prison—other than the lawyers who make you wonder why there are even bar associations—is under contract with Netflix. Shooting doesn’t use much footage from “Tiger King,” but there are enough reminders of some of that series’s worst people, and there’s a bit of catch-up with what’s going on with them. It just reminds it was actually all about terrible people doing terrible things, and thanks to the old footage, it turns out Theroux was encouraging of it for television’s sake.
Theroux doesn’t comment on the “Tiger King” phenomenon other than to mention the series dropping at the right time of lockdown. He presents reaction to the show as universal, not addressing viewers who realized the manipulative hackwork Goode and Chaiklin were doing; everyone fell in love with Joe Exotic. Only they actually didn’t, which doesn’t help Theroux’s “who could’ve known” take on all of it.
Theroux’s a fine host and ages really well—it’s hard to tell the historical footage from the modern—but Shooting didn’t need to be ninety minutes. It didn’t need to be, but it certainly didn’t need to be so long for so little. It’s rubbernecking a rubbernecking of a rubbernecking.
But Team Carole, obviously.