Exotic animals, criminal plots and very bad mullets – Netflix’s new docuseries Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness hooks you in from its first few bizarre minutes.
The seven-part doco – which dropped on Netflix this week – begins with a grim statistic: There are more tigers sitting in cages across the USA than there are left in the wild.
From there, Tiger King takes viewers inside the fierce rivalries that exist among the underworld of big cat dealers across the US. These deeply eccentric people trade and breed lions, tigers and other big cats, keeping them in their own private zoos and often exploiting them for profit.
It’s a tragic story for the cats stuck in cages – but directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin (Goode appears occasionally on camera Louis Theroux-style, giving the subjects enough rope to hang themselves) are far more interested in the unbelievable human stories to be found.
Star of the show is Joe Exotic, a flamboyantly gay redneck Southerner who runs his own private zoo, filled with exotic big cats – and staffed by down-on-their-luck keepers, a disturbing number of whom are missing limbs (the aftermath of one such gruesome accident is even caught on camera). Joe’s like the love child of Liberace and Joe Dirt.
When he’s not tending to his cats, Joe’s boiling over with rage at his mortal enemy, Carole Baskin, another big cat keeper who insists that her private collection is a sanctuary for rescued big cats.
Oh, and Joe’s also a country singer, releasing songs like this little ditty, in which he accuses Carole of murdering her millionaire former husband and feeding his body to her cats:
Even the smallest incidental characters in this gripping doco are deeply, deeply strange. Since the show dropped on Netflix this week, those who’ve given it a go have found themselves sucked into a world they never knew existed:
Tiger King is out now on Netflix.