Review: Tiger King – Murder, Mayhem and Madness
Any doubt whether a true crime documentary series about a little-known zookeeper named Joe Exotic justifies seven 45-minute episodes is soon blown away.
Subtitled Murder, Mayhem and Madness, Tiger King delivers the latter two Ms in spades and it proves instantly gripping.
Add to that a locked-down worldwide captive audience and you have a meme-spawning monster hit for Netflix.
Such is its success, an eighth episode, The Tiger King & I, has just been added which catches up with some of its key figures.
Imagine the maker's glee at stumbling upon this wealth of insanity.
Each episode delivers a jaw-dropping reveal that pulls you in further – and the directors have certainly been pulled in.
The serious charges levelled at Joe never appear to be treated that seriously.
Entertainment is at the forefront of this documentary, and it is easy to see why.
Not only is Tiger King populated by a cast who all look like they roadied for Aerosmith during the wild years, they also seem to be in a contest to out-weird each other.
There is the paranoid narcissist with a vendetta, over 170 tigers and two of Joe's husbands, both of whom claim to be straight.
The mock doctor showman with a cult of "wives". The staff member who lost an arm to a tiger but was back at work days later. The handyman who may also be an occasional assassin.
It is a mass of tattoos, guns, diss tracks, tantrums, meth addiction, presidential campaigns, expired meat pizzas and too few teeth.
And let's not forget Carole Baskin, the big cat conservationist and Joe's nemesis who is strongly linked to the unsolved disappearance of her husband – and it's this subject that spins off into a more investigative piece, while Joe's darker exploits get more of a pass.
Through it all, you will not trust that anyone is telling the truth outside of Kelci Saffery, the one-armed keeper with an immensely chill outlook on life.
The fall out and allegations of lies and stunts for the camera will continue after you read this.
The big question is how the lead characters – Joe Exotic, Doc Antle, Carole Baskin, Jeff Lowe – generate such followings. Why do people stick with them? Or is it more that they love the tigers and they tolerate the madness.
What is clear is that the documentary-makers fell in love with their subject and lost sight of an objective.
While Joe's narcissism is evident – one husband's funeral quickly becomes all about him – too little is questioned.
Sadly, the tigers and their plight are always in the background, as centre stage is reserved for Joe.
It's only at the very end do you get a hint at the real tragedy in Joe's journey.
It would be mad to pretend it is not entertaining, but Tiger King does a lot more to make its leading man a folk hero than it does to help big cat conservation.
(For entertainment value only)
SERIES: Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness
CAST: Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin, Rick Kirkham, Kelci Saffery, Bhagavan Antle, John Reinke
DIRECTORS: Eric Goode, Rebecca Chaiklin
THE SKINNY: The rise and fall of Joseph Maldonado-Passage aka Joe Exotic, flamboyant owner of an Oklahoma big cat park who is currently in prison for conspiring to have a rival murdered – along with a few counts of animal abuse.