By Joe Greenough
Hark, our saviour has come! In the stormy seas of Corona depression, Netflix has heard our call for help and thrown us the gun-toting, mullet-wearing, country-singing, polygamous life raft that is Joe Exotic to drag us back to sanity. Yet, as the 64 million households like mine that have fallen in love with the tiger king found out, it’s insanity we needed most.
Tiger King is just a binge-worthy trashy TV drama that happens to be real, perhaps the first of its kind. Seemingly with every episode of its seven-part series a new unbelievable character enters dramatically, a new bombshell story-line is dropped and another cliff-hanger reliably turns the viewer’s heads to say ‘okay just one more then we’ll go to bed, I promise.’ Story-line aside, the genius of this show is rooted in the golden rule of documentary film making; forget the subject, a show is only as good as its characters.
The show follows Joe exotic; the fabulously eccentric and outlandish private zoo owner in Wynnewood Oklahoma and proud keeper of over 200 tigers and big cats. With his quotable redneck philosophies, bleached mullet, pimpish ensemble and pink tiger-striped assault rifle, this man and his cats alone are more than enough to have film crews knocking down the front door.
Then along comes Carol Baskin, the controversial hippie tiger ‘sanctuary’ owner, maybe husband murderer and antithesis/enemy of Joe. Accompanied by one of the greatest supporting casts in TV history, the duo set the scene for something far more delicious than a predictable PSA about animal cruelty. Through three-way marriages, abusive meth relationships, on-screen suicides, sex cults, arson, murder plots, murder mysteries, tiger attacks, an undetermined number of missing limbs and even a presidential candidacy, Tiger King might be the most epic adventure since the Lord of the Rings.
It might be a stretch to call this journalism. In fact, we end the series with more questions than answers. Did John love Joe? Did Travis kill himself? Did the Baskins serve any jail time for their wedding photos? And the ongoing debate among meme scholars around the globe – did Carol feed her ex-husband to the tigers? We naturally search for a hero, but we never really find one. In reality, Joe is evil. He’s also kind of stupid, a little cringy and yet, entirely impossible to hate. Joe, Carol, Doc, they’re antagonists one episode, protagonists the next and ultimately the story doesn’t even have an ending.
So, what was the point of all that? Well, maybe it doesn’t need one. Yes, we feel guilty for loving this show. It’s easy to forget about the animal abuse and get wrapped up in the admittedly entertaining abuse of the people we come to know and love. At the end of the day, in a time where we’re locked inside to protect the vulnerable, watching Tiger King is our chance to be selfish and we deserve it.
The cat is out of the bag; traditional news sucks and the media world is changing. Everyone now knows you can’t trust the news corporations, social media is an information nightmare and the young generation doesn’t have the motivation to pick which echo-chamber to scream into. Hopefully this style of documentary is a glimpse into a more palatable future of factual film. A simple, tasty, refreshing, low-calorie treat to snack on while we lay in bed ignoring the sensibility and negativity of the world. Netflix is cooking up these kinds of shows fast and, now more than ever, we’re hungry for more.