After over two months in quarantine, many of us are looking for new shows to binge and new characters to become obsessed with. With the story of small roadside zoos, big cats, and an ever bigger menagerie industry, Eric Goode’s controversial Netflix series “Tiger King” has been put under the microscope for us to enjoy or despise since its release in March. When Joseph Maldonado-Passage (better known as “Joe Exotic”) opened his G.W. Zoo and Breeding in Wynnewood, Okla., it began to unravel into an ongoing feud with Big Cat Rescue owner Carole Baskin over her missing husband and his illegitimate tiger breeding.
In the beginning, the series was planned to follow a reptile breeder in Florida, but it took another wild turn into what I think was a much muddier and more cruel storyline. Following the reptile smugglers came Joe Exotic, who brought animal abuse, illegal selling and advertising of tigers and lions, along with many other low-profile crimes. It was certainly inept when it came to animal rights and corrupt when it came to the human business. Later in the series, Carole Baskin is introduced merely as Exotic’s rival and foe. Baskin, a self-proclaimed big cats’ rights activist, drew attention to Exotic’s business, which in turn brought her into the show.
Throughout the series, many theories were thrown out by both Baskin and Exotic that can’t be proven true or false. They waste a lot of time going in-depth about Baskin’s husband, who went missing in 1997 and was proclaimed legally dead in 2002, even though the law requires ten years to claim a missing person dead. This was leverage for Exotic to take down Baskin, claiming she may have killed her husband and hid or destroyed the body. I don’t know why and how this applies to the supposed premise of the series, but it sure does lead the storyline in another direction.
Back to Exotic, the crew spent a lot of time following his love life and political goals. They filmed his three-way gay marriage, obtained footage of when one of his spouses died, and showed many interviews of claims involving other men. Shockingly, Exotic ran for United States President in 2016 as an independent, winning 962 votes, and ran a campaign for Governor of Oklahoma in 2018. These are also useless facts in the grand scheme of the documentary, but helps the audience form an understanding of the kind of person Exotic was. There were multiple scenes revolving around suspicion that Exotic attempted to kill Baskin, supplemented by recorded calls that confirmed he wanted her dead. The series is definitely esoteric when it comes to the tricky matters at hand. I don’t know how it ended up on Netflix, and I think it is the most ridiculous and pointless show because it didn’t make me think any more about the animals well being at all. But if you’re into crazy mystery or crime shows and want something to pass the time with, it could be a good pick for you.
Using footage from as far back as 2015, “Tiger King” seems to track Joe exotic until his demise into prison. In March of 2019, most of the filming would have to stop when he was convicted of many crimes, including the attempted murder of Carole Baskin. The show ended when Exotic was sentenced to 22 years in the state prison, which is even further proof that the focus of the documentary was on the people in it. Every episode becomes darker, but the tone remains low and suspicious. For what it’s worth, it was well-edited and had extremely interesting quotes that tied the messy story together.
Goode’s original intention of the series was to raise awareness of animal well-being and environmental matters, but by indulging the war between these sketchy markets, it took off in the opposite direction towards the human aspect of the trade rather than the animals, and it’s still hard to say if it did a sufficient job at that, or if it turned into a big joke. With billions of dollars coming into the zoo industry, it’s hard to dismantle the tyranny ruling over the caged species. Subtitled as “murder, mayhem, and madness” and labeled as “true crime,” “Tiger King” was certainly more about the king than the tiger and lives up to its name, if not exceeding it, in its diabolical and absurd nonfiction story.