By now, if you haven’t watched this series, or at least caught one of the 1000 memes out there (which, let’s be honest, are good distractions) you are going to soon.
One of the things that I love about Netflix’s original programming is their continual release of stranger-than-fiction docuseries. There are so many unusual, barely believable stories out there, just waiting for someone to bring out of the woodwork and stick in front of a lens. Their newest, The Tiger King, is no exception. From Rebecca Chaiklin and Eric Goode this seven-episode series amasses a cluster of zoo/big cat enthusiasts and delivers their stories by dropping them in expertly timed breadcrumbs. It’s laden with jaw-dropping moments that’ll either make you cringe, laugh or cry, but no matter which, it’s guaranteed to keep you following its oddly winding trail.
To call it bizarre would be an understatement, and to say it is hard to stop watching, would be putting this binge-worthy series, lightly. In fact, one would need many, many words to describe this manner of crime and showboating, and even then, it wouldn’t capture the level of incredulity captured here. Yes, it’s that hard to predict. There’s a reason this has been one of the most streamed content on the service recently: you’ve got to see it to believe it, and…maybe not even then.
Meet The Cast
While these are real people with serious rivalries, all of them seem so excessive and idiosyncratic that they could have been pulled out of a coloring book that insists you always miss the lines. At times, they could even be a sketch on SNL. They’re real. I don’t mean that in an insulting way, by any means, it’s just that the fact that these many people with such big personalities that are all wildly different knew each other, let alone collided, is mind-boggling.
The biggest battle is between Joe Exotic, who runs the G.W. Zoo in Oklahoma and Carole Baskin who has the Big Cat Rescue in Florida. She fights for animal rights, she says, and that he breeds and sells cats illegally. Of course, the real problem here is that these animals should be preserved in the wild, so neither should be on their pedestals or soap boxes or even “thrones” as some proclaim.
One of the other players is Bhagavan or “Doc” Antle with the Myrtle Beach Safari In South Carolina. There are many others integrated as well, with important roles to play (some who truly seem to care for the animals), but these three are arguably the most distinct. The other imperative role goes to Jeff Lowe, a businessman whose partnership with Joe Exotic, signifies the entry to the most destructive descent of this madness.
There is a whole cast of characters that seems ripe for the spotlight. Especially in this entirely strange, dramatic, addicting, comical and yet sad, documentary. None of them are held in a positive light, they all have their demons, their eccentricities, but also they each get a moment where you see the humanity to them. Often, it’s made in a way that makes you question who is telling the truth and who is lying. Is anyone innocent? Is everyone just so wrapped up in their own assault on the other that they’ve become deluded to reality? Those questions mark the qualities of a terrific documentary. Regardless of how the material is received, you’re watching not just because you may be stuck inside, isolated, but because it’s a distraction with an entertaining core.
When you watch The Tiger King you are frequently hit with a variety of emotions, but for the most part, they rally on a healthy dose of confusion, shock, and curiosity. How is it that a story like this exists and we didn’t know it? I think that’s why I fall into documentaries like this so much, because the truth, sometimes, is crazier than something we can come up with. It makes you wonder, what else is out there?
The Battle Of The Best
Murder for hire, polygamy, illegal breeding of cats, potential murder, fraud, music videos, half-naked women posing with tiger cubs, an obsession with fame and greed, these are just some of the inner workings at play here. Plus… a presidential run? Then Governor? How the hell can this all be in one documentary without it being something we all already knew? This compulsory exhibition of this and much more, is one of the most shocking displays of obsession, misguided attempts for fame and animal abuse that I’ve seen. It’s also very compelling.
The big cats, at the center, unfortunately aren’t the main driving point even with obvious need for care and consideration. It doesn’t lose sight of this, by any means, after all, the beginning and end remind us of the staggering numbers and the disturbing truth: there are more big cats in the US than there are in the wild. It’s a sad fact, and I hope, other than being riotously entertaining, that this series puts that back out into the universe. Take care of these beautiful, fierce creatures. They matter.
The real force of the series is the other, dangerous creature: humans. It is so dramatic, so batshit crazy at times, that it compels you as a viewer to want to see more. Yes, maybe it’s partly because there’s a mullet sporting polygamist posing with a tiger and lip-syncing (sorry to ruin that for anyone who believed that was his voice) a music video about a woman who may or may not have fed her husband to a tiger. Yes, that was a long-winded sentence on purpose. That’s the show. If I just call it a true-crime story, it isn’t enough, yet I don’t wait to spoil the freaky little details, but there’s taste.
The Tiger King frequently bounces between obvious humor, illuminating the bizarre characteristics of these people with music and shots aimed at their humiliation, but then it also turns dark and real, on a dime. After all, people were hurt, animals were exploited, and serious crimes committed. Yet, we can also join in laughter while a perfectly placed song accompanies a slow-motion ride on a jet-ski featuring a man who is acting as if he’s the only honest one amid a group of deceitful folks. Kettle – black.
Conclusion: The Tiger King
The series is really handled and delivered exceptionally. There’s a steady cadence amid the chaos unfolding, but no real direct line of sight here. You aren’t watching and thinking “Oh, this is their story” or “Oh, it’s clearly painting Joe as the hero or the villain.” There’s a necessary balance that makes it especially effective.
If you are like me, after watching such a series, you want to investigate further. The truth is, there could be even more added. This story has so much buried within that it could probably get another couple seasons. And you know what? I bet we’d watch it too.
What did you think? Were you stuck to the screen unable to stop watching? Let us know in the comments below!
The Tiger King is currently streaming on Netflix.
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