Bizarre Tiger King on Netflix Is Enthralling, Disturbing

People stranded by COVID-19 seem to be fascinated
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 26, 2020 2:36 PM CDT
Bizarre Tiger King on Netflix Is Enthralling, Disturbing
Joe Exotic, aka the Tiger King.   (YouTube/Netflix)

Americans stuck at home right now have a lot of time on their hands, and if social media is any guide, many appear to be spending it in the bizarre world of "Joe Exotic." That would be the man more formally known as Joseph Maldonado-Passage, who is the subject of a true-life Netflix series called Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. (See the trailer here.) A sample of coverage and what people are saying, but note that the following has some spoiler alerts regarding the outcome of all this.

  • The basics: Joe is the "Tiger King" of the title, thanks to the roadside zoo he ran in Oklahoma featuring tigers and other big cats. The "murder" refers to the allegation that he hired a hit man to kill a critic named Carole Baskin. But the series is so much more, per Vanity Fair. It "features enough serious plot twists to contend with The Jinx; romantic tragedy; one large-cat owner who claims to be the real-life Scarface; another large-cat owner who seems to carry on a deeply problematic, polygamous relationship with the female interns in his employ; and a cowboy-hat-wearing, Big Lebowski-esque narrator.
  • Another try: The series is indeed "genuinely compulsive viewing," writes Sam Adams at Slate. "I’d describe it as like watching a slow-motion car crash, but only if that car crashed into a jet plane and then both tumbled into an oil tanker." You're likely to finish "with a vague feeling of having done something that’s not entirely healthy," but these days, anything that keeps our minds occupied is a "blessing."

  • Echoing that: Joe has become a viral sensation, and Harper's Bazaar rounds up some choice examples. One common theme: "Joe Exotic will go down as the man who singlehandedly helped us get through COVID-19," writes one fan.
  • Spoiler alert: Joe has just filed suit against the government and his former business partner for a total of $94 million related to the charges and investigation that have landed him in prison in Oklahoma for 22 years. Entertainment Tonight has the details.
  • Another big player: Baskin, Joe's longtime animal-rights nemesis, isn't thrilled with the documentary, calling it "salacious and sensational" in a statement to People. As an example, "they devoted an entire segment to 23-year-old lies and innuendos suggesting I was involved in my husband Don’s 1997 disappearance." Yep, that's a whole other thing.
  • More about Joe: New York magazine did a long profile in 2019, and he's also the subject of a six-part podcast.
  • A takeaway: In the Vanity Fair piece noted earlier, Julie Miller writes that "beneath all of those circus-ready characters and cartoonish theatrics is a serious message about the number of big cats being bred specifically for use in roadside zoos and pet farms." That message is that the owners of these big cats can be more dangerous than the animals themselves.
(Read more Netflix stories.)

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