If you manage to make your way past coronavirus Twitter, you’ll notice that people are talking about something called Tiger King. The new Netflix docuseries that follows Oklahoma-based, eccentric, openly gay tiger breeder and zookeeper Joe Exotic (not his government name) has been taking the internet by storm, and for good reason: it is the quarantine distraction we all need.
Everything about this documentary is so delightfully American in all the ways that America can be terrible—but like, in a mostly fun way, and not a “our country is so f*cked systemically that we should maybe consider burning it to the ground and starting from scratch” way that the current pandemic has exposed. Back when America was trash just because it was trashy, and its citizens were trashy, and not because it was a literal flaming pile of waste: this is the America of Tiger King. When a random guy in Oklahoma could buy a few tigers, recruit a local kid from a nearby public school to teach him magic tricks so he could bring a bunch of tigers to various malls throughout the country and perform magic shows with them—those were the good old days. When the same guy could decide to run for president, and then eventually governor, despite having zero experience (or shot at winning, tbh). It’s plastic sequins on a cowboy hat worn to an impromptu drunken wedding in Vegas: that’s the America we get in Tiger King.
Picture this: Three white people (all blond, to varying degrees of authenticity). All living in the South (Oklahoma, Florida, and South Carolina). All running their own private zoos, complete with tigers and other big cats, and feuding with each other. Hold up, you can do that? Yeah, I didn’t know either. Apparently, you can just straight-up buy a tiger to keep as a pet, and this is the kicker, if you’re in one of the following states: North Carolina, Alabama, Delaware, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. As far as Florida goes, you can’t have a tiger as a pet, but their ownership laws are (not shockingly if you know anything about Florida) fairly easy to circumvent.
Obviously, the fact that you can just buy a tiger to own as a pet is not fun. Neither is the pretty rampant animal abuse that is blatantly put on display, more or less unchecked (the producers show that it’s bad, rather than telling, and the only person who consistently points out the abuse is also engaging in some less-than-optimal treatment of animals herself). But if you can get past that, the cast of crazy white people in various southern states provides the perfect backdrop to the real-life soap opera that ensues. And it’s the exact train wreck we all need to distract us from the current high-speed train wreck that is life.
Without spoiling too much, Tiger King presents the best of every true crime documentary or docuseries out there, and one-ups it. It’s even more WTF-inducing than Abducted in Plain Sight. It’s got more twists and turns than The Jinx. To take a page from Stephon’s playbook, this documentary has everything: lawsuits. Jail time. FBI informants. A missing persons case. Cover-ups. Drugs. And that’s not even the half of it.
And the best part? Tiger King avoids the same error to which many Netflix documentaries fall victim (looking at you, Making A Murderer season 2, or should I say, the Steven Avery propaganda machine): it does not champion a winner. In a cast of three main characters (Joe Exotic, Doc Antle, and Carole Baskin), no one is totally innocent, and no one is presented as “The Good One” because they all have their moments of shadiness. Tiger King is a f*cking wild ride, reminiscent of a meth trip (I’d imagine, I can’t say from experience), and when it ends and you crash, you’ll be thinking about it for days.
In fact, I’m still thinking about it. I’ve still got a lot of questions. If I haven’t convinced you to binge the whole series, do it now, and then come back, because I want you to enjoy it, and I really don’t want to spoil it. Which I will be doing below. Here’s a non-comprehensive list of all the questions this docuseries left me with.
Is That Really Joe’s Singing Voice In All The Music Videos?
There’s no way it’s possible. No f*cking way. I can’t be the only one who thinks this.
What Happened To Mario Tabraue?
Positioned as a real-life Tony Montana in episode 2, this guy was f*cking wild. (To be clear, dangerous and very scary, but also, fantastic television.) I could watch a whole series just on him. What happened to Tabraue, and why did they only bring him up in one episode, never to be heard from again? I hope he gets a spin-off.
Is Jeff Lowe Going To Jail?
Probably one of the sketchiest people to ever exist, Jeff Lowe seemed to be on the verge of a federal takedown by the time Tiger King ended. But what the hell happened with that? Is it smart for a federal prosecutor to tell documentarians that she is looking into various people? Seems like it would be ill-advised to tip off a bunch of suspected criminals that you are looking into them, right? What do I know.
Did Joe Really Think He Would Become Governor?
Or was he running for sh*ts and giggles and to get the extra publicity? He can’t have thought he would win, right?
Is Doc Antle Still Running A Sex Cult?
If he ended up in a NXIVM-style bust next year, I would not be the slightest bit shocked. I’ve also got to wonder just what all these ladies are seeing there. Why is it never good-looking men running the sex cults?
Did Carole Kill Her Husband?
She did, right? Costa Rica? Come on.
Would I Take A Picture With A Baby Tiger?
Sadly, my most immediate takeaway from the docuseries was just how cute tiger cubs are. And yes, I know that petting them is bad. I fully understand that! But I was also just doing a realistic assessment of myself and wondering, “would I take a picture with one of these little guys if given the chance?” And I have to say that before watching this documentary, I probably would have. At least now I know better.
How Is Joe Doing?
I’m kind of worried for him, guys. I can only hope he’s leading his own little cult in prison.
What Was With That Jet Ski Shot?
You know the one I’m talking about. It was, perhaps, the shining moment in the entire series.
Are Joe And Dylan Still Married?
I assume Joe would have like, 600 marriage proposals by now if they are not still together.
What Is Howard’s Deal?
Watching the documentary, I couldn’t help but think that Howard is, well, kind of a dweeb. But he’s a serious ride-or-die for Carole (and, given certain theories put forth in the documentary, that could be quite literal). And I just want to know… why? But also, how can I find my own Howard?
What About All The Other Animals At The Zoos?
In addition to the big cats, Joe also had chimpanzees, bears, and a whole slew of other animals. (At one point, you see like, six little dogs running around.) Why weren’t they given any attention?
What Makes Carole Any Better Than Joe Or Doc?
This is the question that keeps me up at night. Aside from savvy marketing and an apparent mastery of Search Engine Optimization, at the end of the day, is Carole really rescuing any tigers? Are any of them helping animals at all? Or is it just a cash grab?
Images: Courtesy of Netflix; Joe Exotic TV / Youtube