In 2001, Ricky Gervais created a mockumentary called The Office with performances and story lines so natural many mistook it for a real-life television docu-series. Now, almost 20 years later a documentary series has been made with characters that are so out there people are finding it hard to believe it isn’t fake, it’s not. This is Tiger King.
If you’ve never heard of Tiger King then you must be taking your self-isolation to the extreme. 34 million people viewed the series in its first 10 days!
Tiger King is, overall, one of Netflix’s biggest shows to date and has been the subject of intense debate among fans on social media. Trust me, you’re definitely going to want to watch this doozie in one sitting, and for that you’ll need snacks.
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In a nutshell the series explores the little-known, deeply interconnected society of big cat conservationists and collectors in America, and the private zoos and sanctuaries they have set up for these unusual animals.
The main subject is Joe Exotic, the eccentric owner of the G.W. Zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, and his bitter years-long feud with Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida. Astute viewers may remember witnessing Joe’s attempt at running for president in 2016, a stunt that was shared on late night television show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
Baskin presents herself as an animal rights activist whose mission is to provide a sanctuary for big cats raised in captivity, but Joe maintains that she is simply a rival zookeeper whose aim is to eliminate her competition. Joe is also adamant that Carole is responsible for the death of her late husband, his claims that she killed him and fed him to her big cats even prompted law enforcement to re-examine the Baskin case (which has never been closed), do I see another Netflix original on the horizon?
A circus-type cast of characters is introduced throughout Tiger King as Joe’s personal life is revealed and we are introduced to other members of the big cat community.
The series then moves to the events leading to Joe’s conviction for federal murder-for-hire when it comes to light that he paid a hitman to murder Baskin. It’s a confidential informant for the federal government that ends up being a key figure in making the case against Joe.
The series wants you to take sides, Joe or Carole? In the end you realise no one’s really a winner, least of all the animals that both protagonists claim to love so much.
Former G.W. Zoo employees such as manager John Reinke and animal wrangler Saff Saffery conclude the series by commenting that the animals themselves were forgotten amongst all the interpersonal fighting.
You finish Tiger King as unsure of your own morals and ethics as you are of the characters you’ve just watched, but you also don’t want to stop watching, the whole world of it is simply too fascinating.
Netflix, knowing our need for more, released an after show where comedian Joel McHale talks to some of the characters, including Joe, about their reactions to the series and their new found fame. Thanks Netflix!
If nothing else Tiger King proves one thing, the truth really can be stranger than fiction.