Is There a Shift in the Overall Mood And/Or Point of View Compared to What Was Originally Presented in Episode 1, 2, 3 and 4 of Tiger King?
“Tiger King” is Netflix comfort food of the highest order: it immerses viewers in a mind-boggling lifestyle and series of scandals, and yet the term “true-crime” doesn’t do justice to its greatness. This is animal-print Shakespeare; a sociological excursion into the minds of eccentric Americans who are addicted to the power that comes from owning tigers, AKA big cats. Theirs is a dramatic, intricate hierarchy, and co-directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin study its every facet. “Tiger King,” arriving on Netflix today, includes approximately five different true-crime tales (including arson, a disappearance, and an alleged murder plot), and bundles them into one obsession-ready seven-episode series. It’s the kind of story that’s rife for binging as much as extensive conversations about all the bonkers stuff that unfolds.
There are no heroes in Tiger King. Not Joseph “Joe Exotic” Maldonado-Passage, whose stripy mullet you’ve surely seen on social media, accompanied by a teal sequined jacket so ostentatious that the adult tiger he’s posing with looks like an afterthought. Not Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, who, one former employee alleges, coerces teenage girls working 100-hour weeks at his ranch to reach “his level of enlightenment” by sleeping with him. Not Carole Baskin, the owner of a Florida sanctuary for big cats, who Tiger King insinuates—in a strikingly unjournalistic way—might have killed her husband. And definitely not Eric Goode, the New York hotelier and animal-rights activist who co-directed the series, whose elevator pitch for it seems to have been “What if Christopher Guest, but real?” and whose disdain for the dentally challenged and leopard-print-festooned characters he captures is Tiger King’s most discernible emotion. In that sense, Tiger King is also the latest and most acute iteration of a Netflix trend toward extreme storytelling; the more unfathomable and ethically dubious, the better. The point is virality—content so outlandish that people can’t help but talk about it. In 2018, the docuseries Wild Wild Country set the model, with its jaw-dropping chronicles of an alternative Oregon faith community whose antics allegedly included spiritual orgies, gun hoarding, electoral fraud, and mass poisonings. Last year’s Abducted in Plain Sight captured the appalling story of a teenage girl who was abused and kidnapped by a family friend, seemingly in full view of her parents. With its reality programming, too, Netflix has been courting eyeballs with simple insanity, via the hit dating series Love Is Blind and the upcoming Too Hot to Handle, a show in which ridiculously good-looking people are sequestered on an island to compete for a cash prize that diminishes every time they hook up, or even masturbate. The more scurrilous or degrading the concept, the more we watch.
On balance, Kate Dylewsky, senior policy adviser for the Animal Welfare Institute, one of the groups that helped craft the bill, said that while she wishes the series focused more on the plight of the animals, she still hopes the attention will spur lasting change. “Reputable sanctuaries, which do not breed the animals in their care, shoulder the burden of rescuing animals that are cast off from cub petting operations, pet ownership, and other exploitative situations,” Dylewsky said. “It is our hope that if the Big Cat Public Safety Act passes, there would be far fewer big cats in need of rescue.” For the Baskins, passing that law would be a long time coming.