It’s unbelievable, fascinating, suspect, and ripe for immediate consumption in the face of a pandemic and raises questions about public taste and convictions that yet have an answer.
By: William Hume
It is easy to see what makes Netflix’s new documentary series so compelling: during this pandemic we are currently suffering, the show offers an escape into the previously unknown world of exotic animal trading. Led by a hilarious and charismatic gay handicap hillbilly: Joe Exotic, the show pits him against a hypocritical gold-digging but comparatively normal woman named Carole Baskin (a rival preservationist). From then on, the plotline plays like True Crime Documentary Bingo. In no particular order we are treated to; drug dealing, polygamy (by the majority of the characters), suicide, arson, kidnapping and elections. The series then quickly pivots to insurance fraud, murder, possible kidnapping, meth addiction, two mental health crises before moving on to even more death and disorder. Like tourists who come to visit the zoo, we the audience feel like travellers to the Greater Wynnewood Zoo in Oklahoma, who at one point are straight up told by Joe Exotic that a tiger just bit someone’s arm off. The content of this production reaches such sensationalized levels, the title-character’s gubernatorial run is only its fifth most ridiculous plot line.
“I’m gonna level with ya, a Tiger just bit someone’s arm off.” – Joe Exotic
It’s no wonder the day after Tiger King premiered on March 21st, 2020 my social feed blew up with shared memes (“That f’n b*tch Carole Baskin definitely fed her husband to the tigers“), one-liners (“I will not financially recover from this“), and simple screen caps of a show Netflix spotlighted but that I ignored due to the fact I cannot get on board with Western nation’s obsession with True Crime Murder Documentaries. I refuse to condone viewing that glorifies, sensationalizes and even idolizes the felony misbehaviours of the extreme variety, usually to marginalized folks, only to inevitably wagged the finger at by those same people who create and consume this content.
Not that you even have to accept the premise of Tiger King, which would play just as well as fiction. The show contains a number of dicey facts from a simple Wikipedia search of the 2018 Oklahoma gubernatorial election showing that Joe Exotic was not in fact the libertarian nominee. The fact that he who is foolish enough to pay a low four-figure sum for a hit job somehow gets a hold of his chief rival’s journal is a question one really has no time to only ponder as Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, which more than lives up to its title breezes through 5/7ths of its run time without giving a chance for the viewer to really contemplate what the heck is going on. It’s like watching the finale of five TLC shows at once while listening to a Serial podcast. The series contains two completely separate murders, one played tounge-in-cheek, the other solemnly. There’s an arson plot that credibly mounts convincing evidence escalating in culpability from everyone; to a chief rival, the documentary filmmaker, and later the victim themselves. In terms of keeping the mayhem going Tiger King mostly lives up to its title, but is so scattershot like many of the explosions Joe Exotic sets off, it has a hard time paying off its ending and mostly exhausts itself by hour six. Like the best documentaries, it starts out with a simple plot angle; “Blackfish but for Tigers”, before evolving into a much grander and more interesting character study. Producer Chris Smith has found a way to top his and Netflix’s previous high profile catastrophic doc Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened by covering its characters not as the caring cubs they are initially belittled as but as fearless and ferocious animals let out of their cages. “Only in America,” I thought to myself multiple times while watching this: that this could happen. Only in America could a shady businessman con artist with multiple wives and connections to an illegal drug kingpin (one of whom the purported inspiration for Scarface), flourish while doing illegal sh*t in the highest profile way possible, while their business dealings remain mostly anonymous to the much of the country. Until this pandemic that is brings most of it to light.
Rating: 85 out of 100
- So many things I missed: One of whom is the Strip Club owner turned FBI Informant who in any other circumstance would be the least relatable person and villain of the story, is available for podcast interviews and like everyone but Netflix got paid a few thousand bucks for this documentary they are making millions from.
- I hate how taken this nation is by animals and True Crime. I find both elements really exploitative low-hanging fruit. The Netflix algorithm might disagree.