‘Tiger King’ docuseries a worthy distraction

Joe Exotic with one of his tigers from the Netflix show Tiger King


Joe Exotic with one of his tigers from the Netflix show “Tiger King”

With COVID-19 dominating the world of news, it almost seems like nothing else is going on. However, a new Netflix show has made its way into the public eye: Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness, an eight- episode documentary series about the big cat rescue and breeding industry. The divergence from normal life that the pandemic provides is unsettling to many people, but it also provides a shiny distraction from the darkness of reality. 

What immediately drew me in was the series’s main character, Joseph Maldono-Passage, self-dubbed “Joe Exotic.” With his bleached hair, five husbands (two of whom he was married to at the same time) and crazy style (a blend of western and trucker), Exotic is not your average zookeeper. He ran a zoo in Oklahoma called the G.W. Zoo, named after his late brother and specializing in big cats, especially tigers. However, a Jack-of-all-trades, Exotic was also the focus of his own reality TV show (which was never aired) and wrote country songs and produced music videos for them. He ran for president as an Independent in 2016 and for governor as a Libertarian in 2018.

The second main character, set up as an antagonist to Exotic, is the founder of Florida animal sanctuary Big Cat Rescue, Carole Baskin. Baskin, who dresses mostly in cat print and wears flower crowns, was married to multimillionaire Don Lewis before he mysteriously disappeared in 1997. Exotic attacked Baskin and Big Cat Rescue ruthlessly, even allegeding she hired a hitman to kill Baskin. However, she may not be the innocent victim she appears to be. In the documentary, some people — Lewis’s ex-wife and children — speculate that Baskin was involved in his disappearance, with some claiming without evidence that she fed his body to her cats.

Some of the best docuseries tend to focus on events that would not appear in the lives of average viewers. Murder documentaries have been popular lately as well, including Netflix’s Making a Murderer, which follows the murder convictions and appeals of Stephen Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey. 

True crime and mystery documentaries easily hook large audiences because they showcase events outside of the lives of most people. This unfamiliarity makes people curious and often results in high TV ratings. 

Tiger King’s wackiness provided a look at an unfamiliar world that drew viewers like me in. Since everyone else was watching it, I thought I should too. I certainly have the time.