By Adam Ray Palmer
I wanted to find a new miniseries to watch, you know, over a few weeks. I saw Tiger King had been released and I thought I’d give it a whirl.
So, in a nutshell, I watched all seven episodes in two nights and now I am back to square one. Really, that previous sentence is a positive review in itself…
Tiger King has a core focus on the little-known but deeply interconnected society of big cat conservationists and collectors in America, and how the private zoos and sanctuaries are pushing the boundaries, more so breaking them, when it comes to keeping the big cats. Initially we follow the eccentric zoo owner Joe Exotic, a homosexual cowboy country star with enormous dreams.
Within a couple of episodes, we are introduced to characters including a former cocaine drug lord, Jeff Lowe, a swinger who sneaks cubs into high-end hotels for parties, Tim Stark and a man named "Doc" Antle, an animal trainer to Hollywood films who founded a 50-acre animal preserve in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Oh, and one more person, Carole Baskin – the arch-nemesis (and now a meme) of Joe Exotic. Baskin owns a ‘conservationist park’ called Big Cat Rescue, she constantly berates Joe’s name and park for being the subject of animal cruelty amongst other things. This claim, he of course for years, refutes. What ensues over seven episodes is a feud like no other in the big cat world.
When Eric Goode set out to make this docu-series, he self-proclaims in the monologue that he never thought the story would go where it does, and he really doesn’t undersell it. From a mad big cat man being overzealous in episode one, to an enormous 79 years in prison being on the line in the final instalment. The meat in-between comes from the rise and fall of the country-cat-cowboy Joe Exotic. He has years of toing and froing with Carole Baskin as he feels she is waging a hypocritical campaign of focused harassment against him, by creating websites naming him an animal abuser and hiring people or encouraging PETA to track his movements. On the flipside, he makes crass and abusive videos about her, with an increasing amount of violence building throughout the years. What climaxes is a feud that escalates to a ridiculous level, a level that the animal abuse becomes a side case to the main plot. Joe Exotic and his zoo spiral out of control and eventually, Exotic attempts a ‘hire to murder’ on Carole Baskin.
Now, come on, like this seven-episode series breakdown hasn’t got you loading up the show already?! What Eric Goode falls upon is an absolute goldmine of a documentary narrative that just keeps on giving. Each episode gets better and has a piece of drama in it that a soap opera would live off for a month.
The way Goode delivers the series is sublime. He shows everything, no holds barred. All the ‘characters’ throughout are fine with this, adding to the series that these people are so fame hungry, they will stop at nothing. With a documentary that set out to showcase why caging big cats domestically is horrendous, it’s fair to say the focus shifts from this. This isn’t necessarily Goode’s fault, he had to follow the story and perhaps made a better show, but yet again; the big cats lose.
The humans, as always, ruin the world in this docu-series. Everything the ‘characters’ touch ends up worse off, or dead. It’s a worthy note to mention that by no means does this documentary glorify the captivity of big cats, but points out the delusion of the people who think they are helping them. As a whole, the series gets everything said and done like it needs to – concisely and engagingly. Bravo to the Netflix team, another original that shines.
Cineroom’s rating: 5 stars
Tiger King is out now worldwide on Netflix.