There’s no one quite like Joe Exotic, star of the wild new Netflix mini-series, “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.” When this seven-part series dropped on Netflix on March 20th, it became an international sensation almost overnight. And it’s impossible to have missed hearing about it. There are countless memes and references flooding social media. Quarantined-Americans obsess over the latest binge-worthy phenomenon.
In fact, there are two types of people right now: Those that have seen Tiger King, and those whose curiosity has been piqued to the point where they are asking others: “Should I watch this Tiger King thing?”
The answer to that question is an emphatic YES. This too-bizarre-to-be-true real-life crime story is a train-wreck of epic proportions, a story that is impossible to look away from populated with a group of zany, memorable characters. It’s not only the best thing on TV right now – and a much-needed diversion for us all – but it’s also perfectly suited for Netflix. It’s a show that you’ll consume easily over the course of a day or two, before spending more time Googling things like “Is Joe Exotic real?” or “Carole Baskin” or “Don Lewis disappearance” than you did watching the show itself.
If you thought “Making A Murderer” was filled with classy people, just wait until you get a hold of Joe Exotic and his merry band of misfits. Joe Exotic is Steven Avery mixed with Richard Simmons and Ted Nugent, with just a hint of Steve Irwin thrown in.
If you’ve already seen Tiger King, you won’t mind reading on, but if you haven’t, stop fighting it. Let’s take a look at the first episode in the series and if you have not and don’t want to be spoiled, please come back later!
CLICK THE CONTINUE READING BUTTON FOR MORE, AND THIS IS YOUR LAST *SPOILER* WARNING!
Let’s start by saying that Episode 1 of Tiger King is only the tip of the iceberg as to what’s to come. It mainly exists as an introduction to the world of Joe Exotic and the underground exotic animal culture in America. Most of the main twists and turns don’t occur until later in the series, and with all the hoopla surrounding Tiger King, it would be easy to watch the first episode with unrealistically high expectations and come away underwhelmed.
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But trust me, you do NOT know where this thing is headed. Several major players aren’t even mentioned by the end of the first episode, and you’ll also find yourself wondering: “Wait…I thought this was some sort of true-crime story?” Don’t worry, it is, even if this first chapter doesn’t quite get that far ahead in the narrative.
Instead, it’s more of a “set-the-stage” episode. Joe Exotic – born Joseph Schreibvogel – is a self-proclaimed “gay, gun-carrying redneck with a mullet.” He’s the owner/operator of an exotic zoo in Oklahoma, where at one point was home for more than 180 tigers. He employed several ex-cons and otherwise down-and-out individuals, all of whom appear for interviews throughout the series. His zoo, the Gerald Wayne Exotic Animal Memorial Park (named after his late brother who died in a car accident in 1997) was eventually renamed the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (or, the G.W. Zoo).
But Exotic is no average Joe…in addition to his zoo, he’s also a country singer, an entrepreneur and an aspiring politician (Joe Exotic ran for President in 2016, receiving 962 votes in Colorado, the one state he actually managed to appear on the ballot). In reality, he’s an eccentric opportunist and a man in love with the spotlight, who seems to exist in his own universe altogether.
It’s no surprise that Reality TV producer Rick Kirkham (who appears in this film and who becomes a much more important figure later on) was salivating at the opportunity to film Joe Exotic’s life for a Reality TV series. Joe recorded nearly all aspects of his personal and professional life, making Tiger King a juicy visual concoction that will keep your eyes peeled to your TV screen.
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But a huge part of Joe’s personality – we learn – is his hatred for one Carole Baskin, an animal rights activist and owner of Big Cat Rescue near Tampa, Florida. Baskin has been a thorn in the side of Joe Exotic for years, seeing Joe’s operation as completely unacceptable from an animal rights point-of-view. As part of his persona, Joe Exotic hosted an internet series and his hatred for Carole was a consistent topic of conversation. Oh, there is SO MUCH MORE going on with Carole, with Big Cat Rescue, and Joe’s relationship with her, but as for Episode 1, we only barely scratch the surface on how all of these elements intertwine.
Speaking of scratching, the first episode also gives us tons of time with Joe Exotic‘s tigers, the unsung heroes of Tiger King. We see how affectionate they can be with humans, while moments later seen ripping into live meat fed to them by their handlers. We see the draw and the attraction of tiger cubs. And how Joe uses them as a main factor of his business model. We learn a bit from both sides of the “animal rights” debate regarding these animals, surprisingly presented in an objective way.
The viewer is left to draw their own conclusions as to the morals involved with exotic animal sanctuaries, and if Joe actually does have a point about the phony elitism that Carole and Big Cat Rescue seem to be hanging their hat on. There’s no question that Joe loves his “pets,” but it’s also crystal clear that he’s not in the game of saving exotic animals because “it’s the right thing to do.”
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The other major figure we meet is Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, a world-renowned wildlife enthusiast and trainer, who is thought of as the “legit” and “professional” version of Joe Exotic. Doc is the founder of T.I.G.E.R.S. (The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species) in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and was somewhat of a mentor to Joe. Doc’s involvement in the overall arch of Tiger King doesn’t become apparent by the end of the premiere, but he too, is a major player.
If you’re not totally enthralled by Tiger King by the end of the first hour, first off, what’s wrong with you? And second, give it another hour. It’s the sort of show that would have easily provided for some great water cooler conversations, if only we were all still gathering around water coolers.
Instead, you might just want to watch, at the very least, so you can decipher just what the heck all of the memes all over social media are referring to. I can’t promise you’ll come away from this series without feeling guilty for the time you put into it, but I can promise that there is not a dull moment in Tiger King, and that the time will “roar” on by (see what I did there?).
Much like those cuddly little cubs, Tiger King goes from cute and innocent to sharp and deadly as the episodes roll along. Episode 1 tells you, “Welcome to the jungle,” but that’s only the beginning of how things get wild.
TELL US – HAVE YOU FINISHED WATCHING TIGER KING? WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON EPISODE 1? AND DO YOU BELIEVE JOE EXOTIC?
[Photo Credit: Netflix]