For a great feud story, you need two sides that are deep, detailed and interesting.
You need Yankees and Red Sox, Hatfields and McCoys, Lincoln and Douglas, maybe Edison and Tesla. By that standard, “Joe vs. Carole,” which starts Thursday (March 3) on Peacock, falls one short.
For a pretty good story, however, you need only one rich character, in the hands of a gifted actor. That’s what this delivers instantly.
Kate McKinnon (shown here with Kyle MacLachlan) is a delight as Carole Baskin, the animal activist; John Cameron Mitchell survives some overwrought material as Joe Exotic, owner of a touring animal show.
Their real-life story – told in the “Tiger King” documentary – fascinated people. They fought fiercely; he went to prison, she went to “Dancing with the Stars.”
It’s an intriguing tale, but in its early episodes, this eight-parter is only able to get Baskin going.
That starts with a wonderful scene: The passionate Baskin and her businessman husband (MacLachlan) are quietly told there’s a hit man after her. At this point, “Joe vs. Carole” is pure comedy – something McKinnon has mastered on “Saturday Night Live.”
But then we flash back to see how it all started. And – in the second and third episodes – we flash even further back, to see how these enemies were molded. Comedy recedes; drama takes over.
Baskin turns out to be an interesting person, mixing idealism and deep flaws. She has an earnest guy work for her for two years without pay, then suddenly fires him … setting up her troubles.
But Joe Exotic? In this version, he seems like little more than a megaphone and a mullet.
The show does try to create sympathy for him as the victim of prejudice, growing up as a gay Texan. But an early scene has him as more of a predator, seducing an employee who doesn’t want a gay romance. Mostly, Joe seems too loud, crude and stupid to be interesting.
Carole is another matter, especially when McKinnon captures her quirks. She gives us half of a great feud and enough for a fairly good drama/comedy.