Editor’s note: So RMR’s senior writer and resident horror expert Sommerleigh had an idea to do a collab on the Netflix documentary series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness about Joe Exotic (real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage) a 56 year-old Oklahoma native and colourful former zoo and big cat owner who was convicted last April of two counts of murder for hire, eight counts of falsifying wildlife records and nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
Now I, Sommer and other Trinidadian reviewers (we call ourselves the Trini Critics League – I know, awesome name) have done collabs on big budget genre movies like Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker but never a documentary series. But there is a reason Tiger King has taken the world by storm and anyone who has watched it will know it is one of the most engrossing and mind-blowing stories ever. Like ever ever. So for today’s article we will have three reviewers sharing their thoughts on this juggernaut of a documentary. With a SPOILER ALERT let’s go wild:
Julien Neaves – Editor
Tigers have been my favourite animal ever since I was eight and during a visit to the Emperor Valley Zoo a tiger kept following me back and forth. Yes you may think he wanted to eat me or was just pacing, but I know that he recognised kindred tiger blood. And my love of tigers, and animals in general, made this documentary especially difficult to watch. To see people exploit, mistreat, abuse and allegedly kill these majestic animals really made my blood crawl. And the exploitation of the zoo workers that bordered on slave labour was truly sickening. These people are low, like limbo under a razor-blade low. I saw a friend of mine post that they felt sorry for Joe Exotic. In this story I only felt sorry for those poor animals.
That is not to say that I did not find some entertainment value in this cast of crazy characters. Joe himself is a larger-than-life figure and you can understand how his towering personality could have people under his thrall. I mean, one of his employees Safi gave up a chance to save her arm because she thought returning to work sooner would look better for the zoo. That is cra-zy. But having two straight men marry him has to take the cake, the icing and the candles. That was one of many moments that made my brain scream “what the hell?!” Another would be when one of those husbands Travis, who was practically a prisoner at the zoo and kept hopped up on drugs, shot himself. On a brighter side Joe’s constantly shirtless meth mouth ex-husband John Finlay gave some hilarious interviews.
A reporter in the series said that Joe made for good television and you can see why. You can tell that he bought into his own hype and really believed that he was an actual country singer (he’s pretty decent with the singing but the lyrics? Yikes!) or that he could actually become governor. Never drink your own Kool-Aid. And it was highly entertaining watching his feud with Carole. Apparently you can repeatedly threaten to kill someone publicly for years with absolutely no consequences. Go America. And speaking of Carole, after this series I am sure many people are convinced that she offed her husband and possibly fed him to her tigers. But the greatest aspect of Carole is that she believes she is some type of saint when she is not that much better than Joe and some of the other zoo/big cat owners, including creepy harem-running, allegedly putting-tigers-in-a-gas-chamber Doc Antle, or con man swinger wanna-be young Jeff Lowe.
The crazy train really goes off the tracks with the murder-for-hire plot and the series turns into a detective thriller with secret tapings, betrayals and more intrigue than a John le Carré novel. I really could not stop watching. But after I did stop watching I felt spent. This story, these people, are just too much. I don’t know how people could binge this show because after one or two episodes I needed to take a mental rest and watch Power Rangers reruns. I didn’t even want to watch the after show special because I needed a break from the insanity. So while I had a time watching this epic train wreck, now I need to clean myself from all the debris. All I can say is that those who may escape man’s justice will not escape God’s.
Score: 10 out of 10
Sommerleigh Pollonais – Senior Writer
My two main takeaways from watching Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is that one, truth is most definitely stranger than fiction, and two, you are never the villain in your own story.
Of all the Netflix documentaries out there, this one seems to have captured the hearts and minds of everyone who has seen it, and for good reason. Well, maybe good is not the right word. It’s more like that feeling you get when you see a massive car accident. You know you shouldn’t look, but you just can’t turn away.
Every one of these big cat owners seem to have sociopathic tendencies. Mahamayavi Bhagavan “Doc” Antle could easily be a cult leader, with his harem of “wives” and his secretive nature. Carole Baskin is a tiger in sheep’s clothing and I honestly think she might be the smartest and scariest one of the entire bunch. Jeff Lowe is a smooth-talking con man. And then, there’s the King of the Beasts (and I don’t mean the big cats) himself, Joe Exotic.
Joe is straight up a lesson in narcissism. A man so in love with himself, he believes everything he’s done has been justified and he’s the one being wronged.
But you know what the most insane thing of all is? You the viewer will find yourself sympathizing with Joe 90 per cent of the time. I know I did, as you can tell he had the best of intentions when he first started his zoo, but Pride, Ego and a heaping of Meth created a man who basically destroyed everything and everyone he came in contact with.
Tiger King is the best kind of documentary because it shows not just one side of this crazy world, but all of the grey areas that make up the Game of Thrones-like world of owning and operating private zoos. And whether you agree with it or not (ironically, there are more tigers in captivity than in the wild, leading to questions of conservation vs freedom for these beautiful creatures) you will definitely be talking about this one long after the credits stop rolling.
Score: 10 out of 10
Matthew Bailey – Guest Writer
Far from the Asylum mockbuster version of The Lion King its title may lead you to believe it to be (if you don’t believe me, look for a 2020 animated film called Homeward which is essentially a carbon copy of sorts of the 2020 Pixar theatrical release Onward), Tiger King is the Netflix true-crime docu-series that took the world by storm. It gave viewers a much-needed distraction from the COVID-19 pandemic with its sprawling narrative, larger-than-life characters, unbelievable scenarios, and twists and turns that feel lifted from a Southern Gothic or hard-boiled novel. It gave the world a meme-destined, pop culture icon in the form of Joe Exotic (real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage), and made his rival Carole Baskin the centre of many parody videos, comedy sketches and expletive-laden social media posts.
The key to the appeal of Tiger King is its narrative unpredictability. Though we’re informed early on that Joe Exotic was allegedly involved in the failed contract killing of Carole Baskin, the series begins with Joe himself: a flambouyant, eccentric big cat enthusiast who founded the G.W. Zoo in Oklahoma. His “unintentional”, unsavoury treatment of animals at his sanctuary, along with his illegal breeding practices, made him a target of animal rights activists, the major one being Carole, CEO of the Florida-based wild animal sanctuary Big Cat Rescue. Their years-long rivalry is highlighted throughout this series, with various individuals (mainly friends, family and associates) caught in the middle.
Save for the final episode, each chapter of Tiger King ends with a reveal, one of which is so jaw-dropping and scandalous, it will automatically change the way you view a certain (trying to be vague here) individual. As the series reveals one far-fetched attribute after another with regard to its ever-expanding cast, the narrative becomes more fascinating, bizarre and darkly humourous. Alliances are made, deals are brokered behind people’s backs, country songs (performed shockingly well by Joe) are written, absurdly funny YouTube videos are created, guns are fired and insanity prevails.
Ultimately, Tiger King serves as both a powerful, cautionary tale of egotism and an exploration of the dark, seedy underbelly of the last thing you’d associate darkness and seediness with: owning big cats. As a documentary, it’s superbly edited, scored and directed, with efficient usage of archival footage and interviews, and mostly non-biased framing of everyone involved in this crazy narrative. As a series, it’s undoubtedly one of the best to hit the small screen in quite some time. Too outrageous to be made up, and too good to be missed, Tiger King gets a high recommendation from yours truly!
Score: Decent to strong 4 1/2 out of 5 stars (Definitely watch this series)
So what did you think of Tiger King? And if you enjoyed this article how about a share? Sharing is caring. For our collab on The Rise of Skywalker you can click here.
And a big thanks to guest reviewer Matthew Bailey. Here is where you can find him and the RMR writers:
* Julien Neaves, Redmangoreviews Editor, can also be found at Movieville on Facebook