“Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness” is a documentary mini-series not only following the story of Joe Exotic, a zookeeper who formerly operated one of the largest roadside zoos in the country, but also the topic of big cat captivity in America. It was released on Netflix on March 20 but racked up extreme popularity in late March and early April due to the COVID-19-induced global quarantine.
Joseph Maldonado-Passage, a.k.a. Joe Exotic, a flamboyant zookeeper from Wynnewood, Oklahoma, is the founder of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park and ran the park until 2018 after he was arrested for a murder-for-hire plot. The docuseries follows his life from the early days of his zoo to the events leading up to his arrest and conviction.
The other two main characters are Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue, the attempted victim of the murder-for-hire and Exotic’s nemesis, and Jeff Lowe, a wealthy playboy who initially invests in Exotic’s zoo but ends up usurping the role of owner.
The story goes that after Baskin protests Exotic’s travelling animal shows, the two initiate a bitter feud, leading to a lawsuit because Exotic uses Baskin’s company’s likeness in said shows. After losing the case, Exotic goes broke, until Lowe steps in to save the zoo from going under. Exotic’s husband kills himself, so Exotic takes out his anger by trying to hire an employee (who chickens out) to kill Baskin and end their feud once and for all. Once Exotic uses Lowe’s funds to fund his gubernatorial campaign, Lowe forces Exotic off the zoo, and cooperates with federal agents to build a case for Exotic’s arrest.
Because the actions of the main characters are so subjective and based on conjecture, the show does a great job of not picking a side. Instead, it shows many, often conflicting, perspectives on the events it covers, using a variety of people in the main characters’ circles to provide insight. Since the characters are so colorful and outspoken, they allow the story to tell itself, with direct input from the producers of the show nonexistent.
Overall, the nature of the characters, especially Exotic, make the show extremely fascinating to watch. The bizarre, outlandish atmosphere that surrounds the story brings a compelling aspect to the show that makes it hard to put down. The production value and editing, coupled with sheer insanity of the plot itself, make it no surprise that Tiger King is so popular right now.
For the fans that need more Tiger King in their life, Netflix confirmed that there would be one more episode following the fallout of Exotic’s conviction.