Times are tough at the moment all around the world, with many of us confined to our homes with little to do besides zoom meetings and catching up on the ever-expanding content catalogue of the various streaming services available in today’s media landscape. But for those who have Netflix, or have friends with a Netflix subscription, you’ve undoubtedly heard talk of the new documentary Tiger King.
The seven-part documentary limited series follows the journey of the notorious zookeeper / mullet-toting redneck / gay polygamist/country music singer/reality TV personality / former magician and exotic animal enthusiast Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage: AKA Joe Exotic or, you guessed it, The Tiger King.
Joe Exotic is a fascinating enough character in his own right: founder of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, a private zoo in Oklahoma which housed over 50 species of animals and 200 big cats, Joe is also an openly gay polygamist, a self-made country music star, a hopeful politician and even an incarcerated criminal. But the series goes much deeper into the wild world of exotic animal ownership in the USA, exposing some dark truths and allegations that will undoubtedly shock audiences.
However, the core story that the series follows is the rivalry between Joe Exotic and animal rights activist Carole Baskin, owner of the non-profit Florida-based animal sanctuary Big Cat Rescue – a woman who Exotic allegedly tried to have murdered.
While it’s hard to believe anyone who would attempt to orchestrate the murder of an animal rights activist is anything other than a monster, the Netflix series (co-directed and co-produced by conservationist Eric Goode) paints it’s subjects in various shades of grey – exposing the hypocrisy and controversy amidst these two animal lovers’ feud. Between Baskin’s own sinister allegations against her and Exotic’s passionate yet misguided journey into exotic animal exhibition, it is often hard to determine who is truly in the wrong – with everyone telling a different side to the story.
Aside from the tension between Exotic and Baskin, the show also shines a light on various other players in the tightly knit and twisted world of US exotic animal ownership; full of polygamy, drug addiction, convicted felons and some nefarious and cruel allegations.
However, what is perhaps most interesting about the series is the incredible access the filmmakers had to Exotic and those in his life; allowing them to paint an incredibly detailed picture of the man – from his troubled childhood to his bizarre, flamboyant adulthood and all the good and bad things that have happened in his life along the way.
Through all the hilarious misfires and the bitter tragedies, it is truly a train wreck that you can’t help but watch. After a while, you might even struggle to believe that there is still more of this story to be told.
With incredibly upfront interviews from a huge cast of people in and around Exotic’s crazy and colourful life, the series is expertly crafted with the use of striking visuals and tense sound and music to create a show that is both wildly entertaining and informative. While you may struggle to decide who’s the victim and who’s the monster in all of this, you’re sure in for a wild ride on the way to figure it out.
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll lose your breath. You might not even believe what you’re watching at times. But make no mistake: Netflix’s Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is a wild ride from start to finish, and one that carries a sobering social message: there are more big cats in captivity in the United States alone than there are alive in the wild today.