Netflix’s Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness lives up to its title. It’s attention-grabbing, engaging, a little confusing, and a bit too long. It’s also the first show you should check out if you need something new to obsess over this weekend.
This seven-part docuseries covers ground faster than a cheetah on the hunt.
The true story of Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as “Joe Exotic,” is alarmingly complex. Centered on the exotic animal-owning community of the American southeast — running between Exotic’s park in Oklahoma, his mentor Doc Antle’s zoo in South Carolina, and his rival Carole Baskin’s animal sanctuary in Florida — this seven-part docuseries covers ground faster than a cheetah on the hunt.
Each episode, we learn more about how these three collectors came to own hundreds of big cats, forcing their respective businesses to compete in the lucrative but limited market of wildlife tourism. A dozen other unbelievable events, including an accidental shooting on Exotic’s property, the discovery of Antle’s supposed sex cult, and the mysterious disappearance of Baskin’s husband, make matters even more bewildering.
It’s a lot to tackle, and as a result, much of it comes out under-baked. But Tiger King‘s central storyline — Exotic’s murder-for-hire plot that landed him 22 years in prison — keeps it all cohesive enough to stay compelling.
Called “the Tiger King” occasionally by others and consistently by himself, Exotic is an unusual character who doesn’t immediately appear like the dangerous type.
With a toothy smile and man-of-the-people mullet, the friendly animal lover seems to have a deep appreciation for those around him. At the start of the series, Exotic cares for his feline friends, park visitors, diligent staff, and loving husbands — yes, plural — with remarkable warmth.
But a feud with Baskin reveals the Tiger King’s darker side.
He’s also got a burgeoning country music career, reality TV dreams, and sizable political aspirations. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver viewers may recognize Exotic as one of Libertarian presidential candidates from 2016. (Oh, and he toured a socially conscious magic act designed to warn children about the dangers of drinking and driving. Go figure.)
But Exotic’s feud with Baskin, who repeatedly and publicly accused him of animal abuse, reveals the Tiger King’s darker side. A torrent of online threats and real-world harassment, plus a nasty civil suit that cost Exotic everything, culminate in an FBI investigation to determine whether Exotic intended to have Baskin killed. The subsequent trial is easily the most interesting part of the series. Unfortunately, it’s also the event these documentarians spent the least time on.
With so much happening in this bizarre tale, Tiger King struggles to say anything substantive about Exotic’s downfall. It records plenty of baffling incidents and outrageous allegations, but can’t seem to use that information to say anything profound about the people they involved. Instead, it’s all just kind of shocking and sad. Interesting certainly, but not necessarily impactful.
That said, the conversations this release are likely to spur among viewers promise to be gratifying. There are plenty of unanswered questions true crime fans will latch onto, and debates about animal rights are undeniably relevant. In this time of social distancing, streamers looking for something fresh to talk about will appreciate Tiger King — for the murder, mayhem, and, yes, all the madness.
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is now streaming on Netflix.
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