By: Ashley de Sampaio Ferraz, Staff Writer
With most people stuck at home due to social distancing, now is the perfect time to binge a new show or series on Netflix. Those looking for a distraction might want to check out Netflix’s new docu-series “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” a series that has recently soared into popularity, as viewers get drawn into the insanity that is the privately-owned big cat world.
Many celebrities, including Cardi-B, have been posting praise on social media, engaging fan-bases to follow along amidst “stay at home” orders and self-quarantining precautions taking place across the country in response to COVID-19. Consequently, the show has garnered a cult-like following, becoming Netflix’s most popular show in the U.S..
“Tiger King” follows the story of Joe Exotic, a former Oklahoma private zoo owner who, at one point, owned almost two hundred big cats. He is a self-proclaimed “gay, gun-carrying redneck with a mullet” and is the perfect main subject for this seven-part adventure into who these big cat owners are and the shocking things they are capable of.
Joe is no exception to this, and the first ten minutes of the first episode reveals where his story will take us, as clips are played of him speaking on the phone from a county jail. It is shown that he was arrested for a murder-for-hire plot and, after watching the first episode, it’s pretty clear that he only hates one person enough to attempt to kill them: Carol Baskin.
Carol Baskin is the owner of Big Cat Rescue, an animal sanctuary near Tampa, Florida. She often protested against Joe’s zoo because of its involvement in tiger breeding and cub petting. Carol isn’t immune to scandal herself, however, as she is suspected by some to be involved with her wealthy ex-husband’s disappearance back in 1997. This is a fact Joe often brings up as proof that Carol’s caring activist role is a scam, but she denies that she had any connection to the disappearance.
These are just two of the many interesting and eccentric people “Tiger King” introduces to its audience. There’s Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, another private zoo owner who has an almost cult-like following of women who he employs to help lead tours and display his animals, there’s Mario Tabraue, a former drug kingpin who now owns his own zoo, and there’s Jeff Lowe, a businessman who uses tiger cubs as a way to lure women into sexual relationships. These are just a few of those we meet while exploring this intricate and insane community.
While learning about these people is fascinating, “Tiger King” suffers a bit from having such a wide focus when telling its story. At some points the series would jump from one person to another, and I would lose track of who they were discussing or what they were talking about.
One reason for the docuseries having so much information and interviewees may be because directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin spent five years researching and filming the series. According to a Vanity Fair article, they originally set out to investigate the big cat crisis in America and ended up stumbling upon Joe Exotic as a perfect main character to their series. The drama of Joe and Carol’s feud played out as the documentary was filmed, giving us the opportunity to see what Joe was like before he made the decision that changed the course of his life forever.
One aspect of “Tiger King” that I feel didn’t live up to its full potential is its half-hearted attempt to raise awareness about the suffering big cats must endure when forced into privately-owned zoos that often don’t have enough space or resources for them. The plight of these animals is often brushed over throughout the series for the more sensational stories of the owners’ personal lives. This is disappointing because, although drama and feuds make for good TV, it feels like a missed opportunity to advocate against animal abuse.
Even with its flaws, “Tiger King” is still a very good series and gives its audience a window into a world they may never experience otherwise. In a time where chaos is the norm and the future is frightening and unpredictable, “Tiger King” has provided an escape by displaying a story that’s even crazier than the world’s current situation. I definitely recommend this series to those who are interested in learning more about the big cat industry, or those who are simply just looking for a new show to binge. Let’s be honest, you probably have the time.