Utterly bonkers 'Tiger King' on Netflix is the cultural moment we need right now
In these strange times, the universe has provided us with a moment of even stranger entertainment.
Just when we collectively needed something so weird that it made our weird new lives feel a little more normal, enter “Tiger King.”
The full title of the Netflix documentary series is “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.” Frankly, I think that undersells it and could have used about seven exclamation points.
The titular Tiger King is Joe Exotic (not his birth name, shockingly), a spectacularly mulletted, gun-toting, gay polygamist owner of a private zoo in Oklahoma who also stars in some truly amazing music videos.
Oh, hang on, folks. It gets so much weirder.
Joe’s arch-enemy is Carole Baskin, owner of an animal sanctuary called Big Cat Rescue, described as the “Mother Teresa of Big Cats.”
Then there’s Joe’s supposed “mentor,” Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, owner of Myrtle Beach Safari (could anything be more Myrtle Beach?), a grand guru with a ponytail/soul patch combo. His organization seems vaguely cult-like, as evidenced by his harem of “wives” who came to his zoo when they were essentially teenagers.
There’s so many more indelible “characters” (it’s easy to forget this is a documentary at times). The friggin’ guy who was part of the real-life inspiration for “Scarface” is a bit player here.
“Tiger King” is so batshit, it could be a parody. (I, for one, can’t wait to see what the documentary parody geniuses of “Documentary Now!” do with this.)
Co-directors Rebecca Chaiklin and Eric Goode heighten the drama in a project that started filming five years ago and with no idea of the insane turn of events they would capture.
The seven-part series delivers the promise of the title. Murder? No spoilers, but kinda! Mayhem? Hell, yeah! Madness? HAVE YOU SEEN THOSE MUSIC VIDEOS?!?
“Tiger King” is not, nor does it strive to be, a piece of journalistic documentary storytelling. It’s a trashy beach novel manipulated to basically drop a new cliffhanger at the end of almost every episode.
Not that it matters, as this is some imminently binge-able content.
Oh, sure, there’s some classist looking-down-your-nose gawking at this culture. It’s a menagerie of rednecks, Joe being the ultimate, and full of soap-opera melodrama.
It’s not much of a serious-minded look at the private trade of large cats in America, which is its own kind of insanity. Like an exotic animal, I escaped from Zanesville. Joe’s park is mentioned in a CBS interview as “a ticking time bomb and potentially 10 times worse than Zanesville.”
But in this moment we find ourselves in, it’s the shared experience we all needed. It’s a 3-star documentary series, but 5-star must-see quarantine viewing. I don’t know about you, but I’m on my second time through.
Now streaming on Netflix
5 out of 5 quarantine stars