Netflix’s ‘Tiger King’ is a different breed of documentary

Joe Exotic in Netflix documentary series “Tiger King.” (Netflix/Courtesy)

The Netflix documentary series “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” follows Joe Exotic, a self-described “gay, gun-carrying redneck with a mullet” and his long-running feuds with two other big cat exhibitors. In a time when people are confined to their homes and forced to succumb to trashy and ethically questionable television, “Tiger King” is a highly addictive series that thankfully makes the time pass by at a faster rate. 

The series entails seven episodes and is an entirely different breed of documentary. The composition of the show, which may seem incompatible, is the exact combination needed to make its mark on  pop culture: part true crime, part lowbrow reality and a hint of WTF.   

Joe Exotic, the main protagonist and star of his own show, built his empire of big cats and misfits that crashed and literally burnt to the ground as collateral damage in his war with Carole Baskin, the hypocritical and fierce protector of cats. Baskin, who dresses head to toe in animal print, started her sanctuary business where exotic animals run free (within the fences of her compound) by buying and breeding big cats. 

Baskin publicly charged Joe Exotic of abusing his animals, and with the help of PETA, commenced a campaign to ruin his reputation and destroy his business. Their petty feud, which included lawsuits, the reenactment of Baskin’s death with a sex doll dressed to resemble her and numerous accusations reached new heights when Exotic was imprisoned for offering his employee $3000 to kill Carole Baskin. 

The big cats, which at one point were the main attraction and driving force of everyone’s motives, turned out to be the least exotic thing on the show. There are men and women with missing limbs, lots of absent teeth due to meth, unconventional relationships and tattoos that claim the property of people’s southern regions. The filmmakers had endless content to work with, but directors Rebecca Chaiklin and Eric Goode at times pushed the boundary between entertainment and mockery which made many shots in the series unnecessary.  

“Tiger King” ultimately lacks a sense of depth that made the show’s intent unclear. It briefly indulges in the abuse and trade of exotic animals, ending the docuseries with a statistic on the number of captive lions in the United States. It briefly skims the surface of the deeper issues that resurrect throughout the show, and mainly focuses on all of the crazy shit that happened.  

“The show was all over the place and the main thing people are talking about is how Carole definitely killed her husband,” said Long Beach State student Katie Dill. “I think people need to focus on how these animals are treated and also the predatorial behavior of Joe and Antle.”

The series, which lacks integrity and an overall purpose, is the equivalent to watching a crash on television. You know you should stop watching, you want to look away, yet somehow you can’t. The show left people wanting more, and erupted in social media posts that included memes and conspiracy theories over who killed Carole Baskin’s husband. 

“I didn’t like the show because it was so disturbing to watch,” said 22-year-old Frankie Dunivin. “But, because it was so disturbing, I needed to see what was next and see what the next crazy episode was going to show me.”

On April 12, Netflix is releasing an eighth episode of the show, titled “The Tiger King and I,” which will be an aftershow hosted by comedian Joel McHale. The newest episode will feature interviews with some of the notorious stars of the show, including Joshua Dial and Jeff and Lauren Lowe.   

While some members of the show have proudly accepted their newfound fame, others have spoken out against the docuseries and will not appear on the new episode. Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, who was accused of putting his tiger cubs in gas chambers and cremating their bodies, says that the documentary should not be taken seriously. As for Carole Baskin, she is not particularly pleased with the conversations that the show generated about the disappearance of her ex-husband Don Lewis.