Our Take: 5/5 Stars
The rise of Netflix has paved the way for content that urges viewers to keep pressing the “Play Next” button. As a result, the engrossing genre of true crime limited series has become immensely popular. Netflix’s latest release of this genre, “Tiger King,” takes a look at the United States’ big cat community. While the tigers are the initial draw, the drugs, cults and murder keep viewers invested.
The documentary is a seven episode mini-series with installments of about 45 minutes, making the series perfectly bingeable. Each episode ends on a cliffhanger that convinces the viewer to keep watching.
The series follows the rise and descent of Joe Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic, the purveyor of a zoo in Oklahoma that specializes in big cats. Exotic is a gun-toting, mulleted, gay-polygamist who is constantly decked out in sequins and fringe. If that was not enough, not only is he a zoo owner, he is also a country singer, the host of a self-produced reality TV show and presidential candidate.
The supporting cast is made up of other conservationists and private zoo owners, each more ridiculous than the last. In Miami is Mario Tabraue, director and president of the Zoological Wildlife Foundation. Before becoming a conservationist, Tabraue was head of a $75 million drug ring and is said to be the inspiration for the crime classic “Scarface.”
Then in South Carolina is Myrtle Beach Safari, run by Bhagavan Antle. Though Bhagavan is a chosen name which apparently means “Lord,” he also goes by “Doc” since he allegedly has a degree in Chinese medicine. His dubious education is not what makes Antle controversial, however. Antle staffs his zoo with young blonde women, all of whom he renames and dresses in skin-tight animal print bodysuits. The whole thing is very cult-like.
Finally, there is Carole Baskin. Baskin and her third husband run Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida. Big Cat Rescue is supposedly different from the other zoos in this series because it is classified as an animal sanctuary. Baskin started her big cat endeavor with her second husband, the multi-millionaire Don Lewis. Lewis mysteriously disappeared twenty years ago, leaving nearly all of his massive wealth to Carole, and leaving his first family almost entirely out of his will.
The main conflict of the series centers around Exotic and Baskin. The latter’s personal mission is to end private zoos and the breeding of exotic animals, and their feud began when Baskin began to attack Exotic’s zoo with allegations of animal abuse. Exotic is not one to take criticism lightly and began to retaliate by posting online videos criticizing and threatening Baskin. From there, the dispute evolved into a million dollar lawsuit and eventually a murder for hire plot.
As the series continues, however, it gets increasingly dark. It is hard to keep perspective when the situation seems so unreal, but truth is truly stranger than fiction. Each episode somehow manages to thicken the plot and blow the previous revelations out of the water.
Aside from the content, which is incredible, the docuseries is incredibly technically well done. Director Eric Goode (“Racing Extinction”) is a conservationist himself, as well as a nature documentarian. The editing perfectly juxtaposes interviews with b-roll and shots from the zoo; at one point a scene discussing meth use in Exotic’s park cuts to one Exotic’s husband’s toothless smile. What ends up grounding the documentary are the testimonies from regular people who provide context for the conservationists’ antics and drama. The producers knew exactly who to interview, from lawyers to animal handlers and strip club owners.
Now that the world is at a standstill, many are turning to streaming to occupy their days. “Tiger King” flies by in just over five hours of viewing and is the perfect distraction from the news. Make sure to check out “Tiger King” on Netflix before the quarantine is over.