I have been on a lot of Zoom calls lately with friends and family, and inevitably, the same question comes up.
“So, what are you guys watching?”
Stuck at home during the pandemic, there’s little to do but play games, watch TV, read books and wrangle children, so everyone is turning to their favorite streaming services to binge well, everything.
What might be the current most popular show on the planet is Netflix’s #1 on its internal Top 10 charts, Tiger King, a place it’s held pretty much since home lockdowns began. It’s a docuseries, and while Netflix is full of those, it’s probably one of the wildest you will ever see, a story so strange it feels almost entirely made up. And yet, miraculously, it’s all true. Spoilers follow, if you can consider real life events that have already been in the news spoilers, I suppose.
Tiger King tells the story of Joe Exotic, and we start with the ending, the fact that the owner of a exotic animal zoo in Oklahoma is currently in prison for trying to hire a hitman to kill a rival, an animal rights advocate named Carol Baskin.
It sounds like a crazy enough concept on its surface, and that’s before you even meet the characters involved.
There’s Joe Exotic, a self-proclaimed gay, gun-toting redneck who at one point, marries two men at the same time and runs for both president and governor.
Opposite him is Carol Baskin, the activist who is the victim of his harassment, however there’s an entire episode devoted to the fact that her last millionaire husband vanished from the face of the earth and left her everything, with whispers from those on the show that she fed him to her rescued tigers.
You want more? Okay. How about Doc Antle, another exotic zoo owner and Joe’s idol, who literally collects a harm of beautiful tiger trainer “wives” and operates his park like a cult.
Or there’s the dynamic duo of Jeff Lowe (who uses tiger cubs to entice women to sleep with him and his wife) and James Garretson (strip club owner and animal trafficker), two of Joe’s business partners who end up flipping on him to the feds to get him locked up.
Tiger King is full of so many absurd and ridiculous characters that the entire thing feels like some sort of demented SNL skit, but it all happened, and has Netflix’s massive, captive audience addicted to its twists and turns as the most talked-about, most-watched show on the service right now.
Half the reason Tiger King is so fascinating is because of its collection of characters, but the other half is the debates you can have about its mysteries. What happened to Carol Baskin’s husband is a fascinating story that gets an entire episode to itself, and the theories range from the tiger-feeding concept to the fact that it’s possible that he faked his own death and moved to Costa Rica in secret.
Or you can debate the central case of the show, whether you believe that Joe Exotic was set up by his criminal business partners who goaded him into hiring a potential hitman they knew to kill Carol, or whether he had all this coming after years and years of graphic, almost unbelievably unhinged threats against Carol before this.
And of course, through all of this, the biggest loser seems to be the tigers and other animals in these parks. By the end I felt extremely certain that literally none of these people should be able to own, breed or raise tigers, even the “rescue” folks, and all of them should be shipped back to their respective countries of origin, if possible. I don’t really see how you get through this series and don’t think that there need to be a hell of a lot more laws in place to prevent all this madness. For every nice tiger hug you see on camera there are a bunch of old tigers or aged-out cubs buried in the woods somewhere with bullet holes in their head after they’ve served their purpose or cost too much.
It is truly one of the most absurd stories I’ve ever seen play out on film, and there’s already talk about a fictionalized retelling of this story in a different series (I believe Kate McKinnon is already attached to play Carol, and I’d be amazed if they didn’t get Ben Stiller or Will Ferrell for Joe Exotic and Doc Antle respectively). It’s a must-watch in these crazy times, as it will make everything else feel normal, even for a brief moment.