What I thought about: Tiger King

The first time I watched a documentary about people (read: Americans) keeping tigers as pets, I was shocked. But this is next level. Netflix has succeeded with presenting series after series of gripping documentaries.

That cage sure looks flimsy. Oh wait, he’s on the *inside* of it?

What’s it about?
At its core, the show is about a guy who calls himself Joe Exotic. He’s the Tiger King. He’s also a redneck, gun-toting, mullet-wearing, gay country-singer magician. And I’m deliberately choosing to leave out some of the other stuff he does because I won’t want to spoil it for you. The stories we learn – and witness – (thanks to five years’ worth of footage) are incredible.

But it’s not just about him. Joe is one of many private zoo owners across the United States dealing in exotic animals. For example, we get to hear about Doc Antle, an arguably richer and more ‘premium’ zoo owner whose animals include a liger and a straight-up elephant. And yes, he does ride the elephant. We also get to hear about the keepers and other staff at Joe’s zoo, and the many business accomplices he meets along his way to becoming the Tiger King.

We also take a look at Joe’s biggest enemy – Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue, a private zoo for tigers which styles itself as a sanctuary. You’ll know why I give the phrase some caution if you watch it.

What do I like about it?
Probably the feeling you get cooped up in bed watching this show and thanking the heavens that you aren’t any of these people. They are Weird with a capital W. I remain astounded at their ability to have survived as long as they have – and indeed nobody featured in the show actually dies by virtue of a tiger attack.

Where do they get the money from to keep functioning like this? Is this what most of middle America is like? Why have they still not passed a law banning the breeding and keeping of exotic animals? (Because it’s America, the Land of The Free).

So in short – I like it for the incredible story that it portrays.

What do I not like about it?
Around about Episode 5, the strength of the storytelling loses its way a bit. New people are introduced seemingly out of nowhere, and it’s a bit difficult to keep track. They also cut in different pieces of footage when Joe is in various states and it’s not entirely clear what the timeline is. It all gets a bit muddled.

I also don’t think they focus enough on Joe’s origins and inner feelings. We get about 2 minutes of footage in the final episode which contradicts a lot of what is portrayed on the show. I would have liked to have seen this explored a bit more.

Worth a watch?
If you were a fan of Netflix’s other documentary series’ like Making a Murder and Abducted in Plain Sight then you’ll probably also like this show. I was, and I did. It’s 7 episodes long though, so strap in.

By the way…

  • A lot of people featured in the series are unhappy about the way they were portrayed. The show’s producers have come under fire for they way they approached the filming.
  • The show has sparked intense online debate about one particular sub plot. My opinion? Yeah, she did it.