Illustration by Drew Parrott of Joe Exotic from Tiger King
Joe Exotic is one of the biggest faces of "Tiger King." (Illustration by Drew Parrott, Oswego University)
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Illustration by Drew Parrott of Joe Exotic from Tiger King

The over-the-top zookeepers of the viral Netflix hit make this series perhaps the strangest true crime series yet.

Since its release in late March, “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” has consumed pop culture. This Netflix series possessed enough crazy drama to keep a viewer invested even if they didn’t want to be.

With nonstop plot twists throughout, the true crime documentary series can easily be considered one of the streaming channel’s most chaotic originals. This is due in large part to the jaw-dropping and unbelievable moments and revelations that help detail the world of wild cat breeding as well as the bizarre characters that inhabit it.

To start with, there are no true “heroes” involved in “Tiger King” despite what each person being interviewed has to say about themselves. Bhagavan “Doc” Antle is one of the people that many claimed displayed some unethical actions. This included, but was not limited to, possessing a harem of wives as he ran his zoo like a cult, doing so with a good amount of emotional and physical manipulation. And the world of big cat breeding, according to “Tiger King,” contained enough hypocrisy and back-stabbing to keep it all going.

This was especially shown in the decades-long feud between the star player of the series, Joe Exotic, and animal sanctuary owner and competitor Carole Baskin, which ended with yet another out-of-nowhere twist in the form of a murder plot.

Although these three very different zoo owners found themselves better than their competition, each had their own dirty little secrets that went with their unique behavior.

They not only built a place where big cats and the outcasts of society could come together when they had nowhere else to turn, but also found themselves in some controversial and suspicious situations. For Baskin, it was her seemingly more than possible involvement in the sudden disappearance of her former husband, Don Lewis, back in 1997.

For Antle, it is the accusations revolving around his mistreatment of the animals he raises, which includes putting them down when they reach a certain age. Then there was, of course, Exotic, who is currently serving a 22-year jail sentence for conspiring to have Baskin assassinated. Each player in this documentary was an enigmatic presence in front of the cameras, who also had their fair share of dark secrets accompanying their love of wild animals.

It is best to not go into complete detail about all the twists and turns one can expect from watching this wild ride of a series since they are all what keeps the viewer entertained, as well as help develop various mixed feelings about everything that goes on in it. But it should be safe to say that every scene in “Tiger King” is stranger than the last as every personality that comes on camera has a secret or a strange event in their history.

And since the series started streaming in March, there have been over dozens of other news stories and interviews that have dug into the troubling aspects of each zoo owners’ mistreatment of their employees and romantic partners, as well as the exploitative treatment and breeding of their big cats.

In a twisted way, “Tiger King” provides a strange comfort while taking refuge during this time. For those that are forced to self-isolate in their homes, this can be seen as not only a decent distraction, but also a funny reminder that the world was bizarre in so many varied ways before the outbreak of the coronavirus.

In the midst of this pandemic, almost anything new in the entertainment world can be considered a good escape. In the case of this particular docuseries, however, no one would be running the risk of being hyperbolic when they say that it is perfect.

Whether one loves to hate it or hates that they love it, a person will be able to stay hooked as they immerse themselves in mind-boggling lifestyles that include a collection of scandals that they will not believe is (literally) true crime drama.

It has all the kinds of visual storytelling perfect for binging, and incites extensive conversations about all the various scenarios that unfold in each episode.

Because in the end, nothing else can be said about this stranger-than-fiction Netflix documentary everybody has been talking about except that the series has managed to introduce people to a tangled web of larger-than-life characters. Heavy with absurdity and light on the point it was trying to make, “Tiger King” has been able to show viewers that when you stuff too many skeletons in the closet, they will fall out.

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