Netflix’s documentary series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness dropped in full on the streaming service on the 20th of March. Since then, it seems like the world has been talking about it, blown away by the layer upon layer of craziness that the documentary throws at you over the course of its seven episodes.
Though it’s extremely difficult to cover the show without veering into spoiler territory, I’ll do my best. Essentially the story of how Joe Exotic – the eccentric, flamboyant and self-styled Tiger King of the title – went from being an exotic animal park owner to being imprisoned for 22 years for his involvement in a murder-for-hire plot.
There’s a famous quote by Mark Twain that applies here: ‘Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities – truth isn’t’. It’s incredibly apt; the cast of deeply unlikable, horrendously flawed characters we meet here – with only one or two people interviewed over the course of the series who emerge with any sort of dignity – would be seen as far too unappealing in most fictional tales. Likewise the series of events that keep spiralling out of control; at times, with revelations and new twists and turns being thrown into the mix seemingly out of nowhere, it feels like a Coen Brothers movie too implausible even for those cinematic siblings to make up.
And yet, here we are. There’s no doubt that some threads are thrown in for sensationalism and for viewers to have another mindbogglingly crazy development to shake their head at, rather than for their importance to the main narrative – but it all adds up to a very potent cocktail that leaves us with lots of questions even after the series concludes.
It does seem that some injustice has occurred along the way with a number of different events that transpire; whether or not Joe – as crazy as he is and as obsessed he is with his nemesis, supposed animal sanctuary hero Carole Baskin – deserves to be serving a 22-year sentence for plotting her murder is open to debate.
One thing’s for sure – the series itself is a hugely compelling look at a world way outside most of what any of us will experience, which perhaps explains the appeal of this bizarre, intense and sometimes disturbing look at the human menagerie that Joe Exotic seems to drag into his life.
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