In the midst of a pandemic, many people have been confined to their homes and are in need of new forms of entertainment to replace the same level of socialization they once had experienced. Instagram stories are flooding with pictures of puzzles, sidewalk chalk and paint as well as other crafty activities that can be done at home. Some of us are going on runs, reorganizing our closets and finishing that book we always dreamed we would. And some of us (including myself) are using this time to watch all the movies and TV shows we can, treating Netflix like a bucket list to be conquered. Netflix knew we were in need of something special, and on March 20, “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” was released.
The show, consisting of seven 45-minute episodes, focuses on a man named Joseph Maldonado-Passage, otherwise called “Joe Exotic,” who is described in the show as “an insane, gay, gun-toting, drug-addict fanatic.” He is the owner of a small zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, called the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, where he houses 227 tigers as well as other animals such as bears, gorillas, crocodiles and other big cats. I was impressed by Joe Exotic’s presence and personality, and immediately understood the craze surrounding him. His confidence is addicting.
Throughout the show, the ethical practices of Joe Exotic’s zoo are called into question as new laws and regulations restrict private ownership of big cats. One of the loudest voices in opposition to Joe Exotic is another big cat fanatic, Carole Baskin, the owner of Big Cat Rescue near Tampa, Florida. Baskin claims that her zoo is a “sanctuary” where she rescues big cats in need of a home, and she berates Joe Exotic for breeding and exploiting his cats for money.
Joe Exotic retaliates, exposing the actual conditions of Baskin’s so-called sanctuary as less than ideal. Baskin ends up suing Joe Exotic for copyright infringement, elevating their feud and unleashing something in Joe Exotic that has not been seen before. Quickly, we learn that this is about much more than the ethics of owning big cats, but rather the pride, wealth and ego that come along with it. The show takes a dark turn as drugs, sex cults, suicides and multiple murders enter into the picture, resulting in arrests, missing persons and many broken relationships.
This show is an absolute rollercoaster from start to finish. What begins as a lighthearted, comedic documentary featuring adorable lions and tigers turns into a bone-chilling, true-crime investigation of the lives of big cat owners. The filming began five years ago and goes all the way to the present day, perfectly encompassing the complicated, multilayered narrative. Each passing minute of “Tiger King” reveals another soap opera-esque twist that leaves you unable to look away or pick your jaw up off the floor. Joe Exotic will have you obsessed.
“Tiger King” is the perfect escape from the isolation of quarantine. The rivalries, polygamous marriages, explosives, Joe Exotic’s eyebrow ring and, of course, the tigers, all pull you from your couch and into the middle of Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park. If you are looking for a show to make you laugh, cry, gasp and gag, this is the show for you. Stay safe, all you cool cats and kittens.