If you’re looking for a show that is truly wild, a series that will captivate and shock you or a great distraction to what’s going on in the world, you’ve found the right show. Make “Tiger King” your next binge.
The subhead of the Netflix documentary series — “Murder, Mayhem and Madness” — essentially sums up the show: There is a lot going on.
Ostensibly, the show is about Joe Exotic (aka Joseph Maldonado-Passage aka Joseph Schreibvogel), the owner of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Garvin County, Oklahoma. At this zoo, Joe exhibited his many tigers, lions and other animals before becoming embroiled in a conflict with Carole Baskin, an animal rights activist who owns a sanctuary for big cats in Florida.
“Tiger King” is not classy TV. Do not expect to watch a seven-episode-long call for the abolishment of big cat ownership. Be prepared for a trainwreck that you can’t look away from. The subjects are ridiculous — and thereby ridiculously entertaining.
Throughout the series, Joe is portrayed as an ostentatious, attention-seeking loudmouth. Not only does Joe create country albums and music videos, he runs for president and, when that fails, governor of Oklahoma. He has questionable relationships with vulnerable younger men, eventually getting married to two of those men at once. And, oh, he absolutely hates Carole Baskin.
While Joe rants and raves about Carole and how she wants to shut him down, she’s managing her own sanctuary for big cats in Florida. The 58-year-old drives around her grounds in a leopard-print golf cart, dressed in cat print and with a flower crown in her hair. Controversy swirls around her when filmmakers question how her previous millionaire husband, Don Lewis, disappeared (Joe thinks she fed him to a tiger).
The series investigates the legal battles between Joe and Carole and how these expenses force Joe to seek other means of funding for his zoo, which is eventually conned out of his hands by businessman Jeff Lowe. Joe’s hate for Carole then turns into a murder-for-hire plot.
Just finished watching #TigerKing on #Netflix. I have a lot of thoughts which I'll post in a considered form in the next day or two. In the meantime, here is me and Joe back in the day and a link to the doc I did on player. https://t.co/oaVffJZl5j pic.twitter.com/VzMLHin2q1
— Louis Theroux (@louistheroux) March 31, 2020
There’s so much going on and so many odd yet interesting little details that they can’t all be covered here. These strange subtleties set the scene and make “Tiger King” a must-see, though you won’t believe it once you actually see it.
The only complaint I had with “Tiger King” was the organization of the documentary’s material. Clearly, there was a lot to cover, but this sometimes made the show feel unfocused. It seemed to start out as an exposé of big cat abuse that turned into a character study of Joe and Carole before concluding as a crime story.
As the filmmakers have said since the series release, they originally intended to make a documentary about the abuse of big cats in captivity — essentially a big cat version of “Blackfish,” the 2013 documentary about killer whales and issues with keeping the animals in captivity.
Whereas “Blackfish” remained focused on telling the story of Tilikum (a SeaWorld orca that had taken the lives of several people) and filling in the context of SeaWorld’s establishment and current problems, “Tiger King” splits its spotlight between animal abuse, true crime and the eccentric personalities of its subjects. There’s simply too much going on.
Besides all this, “Tiger King” has come under fire for sensationalizing its subjects. Carole and Doc Antle (another exotic wildlife owner featured in the series) have separately responded to the documentary, both saying that it misrepresents them and the work that they are doing.
Nevertheless, “Tiger King” is an over-the-top, crazy, fascinating show. It’s some good entertainment for right about now and one meaty series that you can really sink your claws into.
Stephanie Santillo is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.