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Love, hate, betrayal, vicious rivalries, polygamy, sex cults, murder for hire, and lions… there is apparently a lot going on in the world of exotic cat breeding.
Netflix’s seven-part documentary series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is a strange saga that takes place within the different facets of the large cat community, chronicling people who keep ferocious felines and other exotic creatures for pets and for profit, creating their own revenue streams, theme parks and cults of personality around the endangered animals. At the center of the chaos is Joe Exotic, a big animal keeper and part-time country crooner and the owner and operator of Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma.
The story of Tiger King is as fantastic as it is bizarre, filled with colorful characters who should each get their own show. With the help of his two husbands and a handful of ex-cons and outcasts who live on his property, Joe Exotic runs a roadside attraction filled with legions of captive large cats. However, when his homemade haven is threatened by animal activist and former breeder Carole Baskin, the owner/operator of an animal sanctuary called Big Cat Rescue, Joe takes action to protect his way of life, by any means possible.
The program takes audiences by the hand as it explores the big cat community and the characters who inhabit it. And while each person is a self-professed animal lover who just wants to do right by the creatures they keep, there are no innocents here. Every player has their own set of claws, and is ready to pounce at even the smallest amount of perceived danger. From Joe’s contemporaries such as Doc Antle, who keeps a menagerie of women to match his collection of animals, to Baskin, who lives under a shadow of suspicion herself due to the mysterious circumstances in which her first husband disappeared. Still, the heart of this tempestuous tale is Joe, whose festering animosity toward Baskin reaches a sinister apex when he hires thugs to murder her.
These misfits and the communities they create make up the strange, cat-hair covered heart of Tiger King, an oddball story that can easily be devoured in a single sitting — just what we all need right now. As we’ve all become aware of the past couple weeks, truth is stranger than fiction. With more twists, turns, and eccentrics than a Wes Anderson movie, sans some of the whimsy, Tiger’s strange true tale makes for an entertaining and escapist binge.
Joe, Carole and Doc are big cat gurus whose passion for exotic animals and charismatic nature have inspired people to follow them, marry them, and dedicate their lives to spread their ferocious feline gospel. But in the end, the only victims are not the talking heads with a love for carnivorous kitties, but the imprisoned animals forced to live a half-life in captivity.