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Netflix’s ‘Tiger King’ a roaring success about the pandemonium behind Joe Exotic

Netflix’s ‘Tiger King’ a roaring success about the pandemonium behind Joe Exotic

Netflix’s ‘Tiger King’ a roaring success about the pandemonium behind Joe Exotic
April 10
14:00 2020

If you haven’t heard of Joe Exotic by now, whether it be by docuseries, podcast or Twitter meme, you have a lot to catch up on.

Joe Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic, also known as Tiger King, unleashed chaos into the animal world, and Netflix delivered that chaos into the living rooms of millions with their seven-part docuseries “Tiger King.” The series, made by Eric Goode, explores one man’s obsession with tigers and how it morphed into lies, deception, malice and vengeance. What started off as a well-meaning attempt to save big cats turned into a profit-oriented, eg0-driven competition in which animal welfare was sidestepped in the name of getting even with enemies.

That’s about the most vivid description I can give without outright giving away what happens. And that description doesn’t even begin to encompass the volatile absurdity of “Tiger King.”

When you hover over the title on Netflix, the clip that plays is of a woman getting her arm ripped off by a tiger. So yeah, this series is whack.

This is not an easy story to tell, mainly because there’s not any one story in particular. It’s more like dozens of stories told over the course of five years, each so peculiar they could merit their own documentary. The center of it all is Joe Exotic himself, the former owner of the G.W. Exotic Animal Park, but it also shares the stories of his husbands, his staff, his animal rights enemies and several other exotic animal owners from across the country. There is no clear good-guy, bad-guy narrative. In some way or another, almost everyone is a villain. It’s probably the most turbulent 314 minutes to exist on Netflix.

Despite how difficult of a story this is to grasp, filmmaker Goode did a great job at sharing it. I think the last time I’ve seen a real-life story as insane as this one was “Abducted in Plain Sight,” also on Netflix. The difference is “Abducted” was an hour and a half-long documentary, which was not nearly enough time to thoroughly unravel the madness of the case. In the end, the documentary was so perplexing the events came off as being entirely unbelievable. In “Tiger King,” however, Goode spent over five hours sinking his teeth into the subject matter, offering in-depth interviews with a surplus of sources that truly dive into the motives behind their actions, rather than just presenting what happened and glazing over the reasoning. Though everything that happens in “Tiger King” is puzzling, it’s presented in a way that makes it plausible.

I would, however, have liked to have seen a bit more context in the episodes about Carol Baskin and her ex-husband and about Joe’s alligator house/reality TV studio. While the majority of these storylines were well fleshed-out, there were a few things some of the sources said that threw me off guard because the information wasn’t followed up on. It almost seemed like some of their statements could have served as incriminating evidence, but without any further investigation into their claims, I was left feeling a bit confused and unsure as to what or who I should believe.

Though it’s more extensive than “Abducted,” Goode was also careful not to fall into the trap on the other end of the spectrum — making the series too long to where the middle chunk of episodes stall out. The series is well-paced, and there’s not one episode particularly more explosive than the others.

If you’re looking for a few hours of bewildering entertainment, this is the docuseries of your dreams. It’s the train wreck you can’t look away from. “Tiger King” delivers in every episode, and despite the wild and tumultuous tone of the series, it ends on a somber note — in the end, no one won, and Joe Exotic’s war was ultimately at the animals’ expense.

Final rating: 4.25/5

Featured image: Courtesy ABC 14 News

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Haley Arnold

Haley Arnold

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