Relying on acceptance that “truth is stranger than fiction”, the number one Netflix show Tiger King gains much of its allure by just barely avoiding the outer limits of credibility. Filmmakers Erik Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin caught a bigger than envisioned tiger tale when they landed rights to make a seven-part documentary about purveyors of exotic animals.
Start the main character, a zookeeper who renamed himself “Joe Exotic.” Other than spoof writers, few would dare create someone who describes himself as quote “a gun toting, gay, redneck polygamist.” But of course, that outrageousness explains part of the documentary’s appeal. The first episode starts with seemingly preposterous circumstances, followed by even more extremes as the series continues.
Much of what happens should inspire anyone present to shout, “OMG, how can you do this?” but the filmmakers hold steady and try to simply record rather than influence action. This meant they avoided the huge temptation to interact with the exotic cats and other animals that serve as another of the documentary’s main draws. After all, lions and tigers and bears inspire an “oh my” sense of awe and prove inherently photogenic. Majestic as adults, the adorable cubs inspire hugs and serve as the piece’s major victims.
While filmmakers work at avoiding judgmentalism, they ultimately side with the idea that the world needs to find out how to keep tigers and other exotic animals alive in the wild. But in many ways, the animals serve as window dressing for the bizarre mix of people who push the story forward. Besides Joe Exotic—a stage name, by the way—tigers lure other personalities whose lives sound more like wild imagination than headline grabbing reality.
Take the catwoman who possibly killed her multimillionaire husband, or the cultish father-figure with a collection of young girlfriend/slash/wives, or the con man with underworld ties that might involve murder for hire. Lurid and compelling, the story moves along quickly with its various characters so thrilled to have a camera focus on them that they talk without realizing how they compromise themselves.
Use exclamation points for Tiger King’s subtitle: Murder! Mayhem! Madness!. All lead to a tale so drastically different that the Tiger King documentary serves as escapism from current world events.The seven-hour length provides an additional draw in a stay at home world.