“Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” Review

If there was one word I could use to describe Netflix’s eight-episode true-crime documentary series “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” it would be—chaotic.

The series chronicles the life of Joe Exotic, a polygamous, gay man from Oklahoma who not only bred tigers and owned a seemingly-successful zoo, but who also 

  • created and starred in his own country music videos,
  • ran for President of the United States in 2016,
  • ran for governor of Oklahoma in 2018,
  • led what he described as a “little cult” of drifters and young men,
  • allegedly attempted to arrange the murder of Carole Baskin, a woman who owns an animal sanctuary in Florida and is his nemesis because she tried to shut down his zoo.
  • is serving a 22-year prison sentence for the alleged murder-for-hire attempt, and for allegedly killing some of his tigers, along with other federal wildlife law violations.

When you first see Joe Exotic, you immediately realize that he is not what you would typically see on television. He has a mullet, wears a knee brace, speaks with a drawl and is almost always wearing a combination of vests, chaps or bedazzled shirts. He almost seems larger-than-life with his numerous tigers and romantic relationships. However, his larger-than-life attitude eventually leads to his downfall, which is what you see throughout the series.

The show goes from more happy moments—like Joe marrying both of his husbands at the same time—to dark moments. These dark moments include recountings of manipulative and abusive relationships, the accidental death of one of Joe’s husbands and Joe’s campaign of hatred against Carole Baskin. Oh and by the way, Joe also believes that Carole murdered her husband for money. Carole’s millionaire husband, Jack Donald “Don” Lewis disappeared in 1997 and is presumed dead, according to People Magazine.

We also hear about Joe from Carole’s perspective, which is one of the documentary’s strengths. The documentary series does a great job of trying to tell everyone’s stories, however, it did make me feel a bit overloaded. 

The series’ numerous plot twists happened with such frequency that the only thing I expected was the unexpected. I never would have thought a show about tigers would turn to crime and murder.

“Tiger King” also seems to be heavily sensationalized. From the outrageous things Joe and his crew have done to the fact that there was a special eighth-episode of the series that featured remote interviews with the cast and was hosted remotely by Joel McHale, it seems like the series is trying to capitalize on Internet culture. What I mean by internet culture is that the series seems perfectly fit to go viral on social media and lead to the creation of numerous memes, which is exactly what it has done.

The sensationalism also leads to a moral conundrum that is not addressed by the documentaries producers or crew—Joe’s accusation that Carole murdered her husband. “Tiger King” does not give any context as to how the viewer should interpret the allegation. Is it a joke or is it serious?—the world may never know. The allegation has led to viral tweets, conspiracy theories and to Hillsborough County, Florida Sheriff Chad Chroniste to ask for new leads in the cold case, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Believe it or not, this only scratches the surface of how chaotic “Tiger King” can get. To be honest, while watching the series, the only thoughts I had were: 1) Why is Joe Exotic obsessed with Carole Baskin? and 2) This can’t be real. There is no way that any of this actually happened. However, it did in fact happen. 

Even President Donald Trump was dragged into the chaotic energy of “Tiger King.” During a White House coronavirus press briefing on April 8, Steven Nelson, a reporter from The New York Post, asked Trump a question about “Tiger King” and whether or not he would consider pardoning Joe Exotic, according to the Los Angeles Times. Trump’s response: “I’ll take a look.”

In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, “Tiger King” has provided many of the people in isolation an opportunity to escape from isolation to a different world. While “Tiger King” and Joe Exotic are entertaining and provide a much-needed escape, the chaotic energy of “Tiger King” is almost overwhelming. 

While I have serious issues with Joe’s accusation of murder and lack of context provided, I do think the series is one that people should watch purely because what people want right now is sensationalism. The entertainment, and almost comedic, value of the series is exactly what we need right now to get through this pandemic.

My last thought on “Tiger King” is this: Mr. President, please do not pardon Joe Exotic.

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