Steve Backshall is quaking, and rightly so.
Honest to god I started watching this because I thought it was a documentary about tigers. Ten minutes in and sex, drugs, misogyny, violence, and murder plots had been thrown into the mix.
Okay… so this wasn’t what I thought it would be.
Meet Joe Exotic (yes you heard that right). Sporting a dodgy bleached mullet, an eyebrow piercing that’s gone walkabouts to the side of his face, and a handlebar moustache – he’s the tiger king, and owner of an big cat park in Oklahoma. And a country singer. Because apparently those careers go hand-in-hand (I dare you not to cringe at the music videos). Determined to make himself known worldwide, he’s even hired a producer to film a web series and a reality TV show about him. Thing is, he’s also been accused of hiring someone to murder his rival – Carole Baskin. Owner of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, she claims to be providing a safe space for tigers, and describes Joe’s park as “creating the problem”. He’s about to become famous for all the wrong reasons.
My advice when watching? Don’t trust anyone.
What is both brilliant (and yet completely infuriating) is the portrayal of those involved. Whilst we’re made to believe certain people are ‘good’ – later episodes prove our conceptions wrong, flipping them on their head. My advice when watching? Don’t trust anyone. Although we know how it ends right at the start of the first episode, with a pre-paid call from Joe in prison, as he describes it, ‘caged up like a tiger’ (oh, the irony) – but there’s a strong sense that this story isn’t over. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a Carole Baskin Tiger Queen documentary in a couple of years.
Filmmakers Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin admit that they never went into this documentary expecting to have this chaos as the final product. A lot like S-Town and Serial (both equally bizarre, but brilliant true-crime podcasts (you’ve got time now, so no excuses not to listen to them)), Tiger King seems to have a life of its own. But sometimes this is where it fails as a documentary; with so many people involved in the case, from park-owners to their staff (both current and ex-employees) and law enforcement, it’s a lot to wrap your head around whilst watching. I watched it over the course of a week – but in hindsight, with multiple different plot lines and so many points of view, it’s definitely one to binge watch.
Joe’s attitude and temper towards the cats can be uncomfortable to see.
There’s a serious tone behind all this chaos. Animal rights laws in America aren’t doing enough, if people are getting away with breeding and even keeping big cats as house pets. At times this means it’s really not an easy watch; Joe’s attitude and temper towards the cats can be uncomfortable to see – and when his hunger for fame overtakes his love for the big cats – the show definitely takes a turn.
Love it or loathe it, it’s is worthy of your quarantine watch-list. There’s no throne big enough to fit the ego of the Tiger King.
Last modified: 28th March 2020