Tiger King


Reality Bites

Main Cast: Joe Exotic, Carol Baskin

Directors: Eric Goode, Rebecca Chaiklin

Yeah, I watched it. How could I resist? The whole Internet was talking about Tiger King, and we know it’s no fun to miss a cultural moment. What we learned from Game of Thrones is that when cultural moments involve TV shows, they can be a real mixed bag.

Tiger King (full title – Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness) is a Netflix limited series about a big cat zoo in Oklahoma and the man who runs it. His name is Joe Exotic. It isn’t really, but that’s the name he prefers. Anyway, Joe has a running feud with a woman named Carol Baskin. Carol runs the Big Cat Rescue in Florida and disapproves of Joe’s zoo, his ethics, and the entirety of the big cat trade. She considers herself a wildlife advocate, conservationist, and rescuer. Joe and Carol are bitter rivals and that rivalry makes up the core of Tiger King. We also get a few glimpses at other big cat zoos and their flamboyant owners. I had no idea that there was this small and mostly disgusting world of “big cat conservationists” out there. Ignorance was bliss on that one.  

Joe Exotic from The Tiger King
Welcome to Tiger King. This is Joe Exotic.

First things first – everyone in this series sucks. They’re petty, grandstanding, manipulative criminals making their living off of the mistreatment of animals. Their bizarre rivalries and escapades are entirely a function of them being essentially lousy people. There is one person, who despite seeming absolutely bonkers at first, ends up being a solitary voice of reason in this dishonor among thieves tale, and I am thankful for them. Shout out to you, Saff, you’re the only one of these people I would not flee from on the street.

Now, on to what has made Tiger King such a phenomenon. IT IS FASCINATING. Yes, fascinating in a lurid, unsavory, train wreck way, but still FASCINATING. Whenever we dig deep into any sort of seedy underbelly there are bound to be incredible characters, but there people are a cut above. There are YouTube shows, music videos (seriously – they are a highlight), throuples, accusations of murder by tiger, a lot of cultish behavior, and some really unfortunate dental health issues. As we careen through this weird little world, the picture of humanity that emerges is not pretty. Not pretty at all. But like basically everyone else, I could not stop watching.

So what makes this worth your time? Number one, those fricking music videos. Numbers 2-infinity, just when you think you have some idea what these people are about, something weirder shows up. It’s a nearly endless parade of strangeness that has moments of brutal hilarity intertwined with some honest vulnerability. Some of the folks who appear in Tiger King looked at Joe Exotic’s venture as a second chance to make a life for themselves, and for them this isn’t funny, it’s tragic. I really wanted know what happened to everyone – even the people who were the absolute worst (read: almost all of them).

The stories told in Tiger King aren’t over – there are additional specials and projects and articles about these people popping up like mushrooms. But the foundation is all laid out in these seven episodes of the most tawdry reality television you will ever watch. Do I recommend it? Sure. Am I proud of that? Nope. Am I a little embarrassed by it? Yes. Would I watch it again? ABSOLUTELY.

Tiger King is streaming on Netflix.

More Netflix Limited Series

The Stranger ~ Black Earth Rising ~ Maniac ~ Safe ~ The Five

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