Liars, Tigers, and Binge-watching, Oh My: A Look at Netflix’s Tiger King

The Netflix original docu-series, Tiger King, has been a popular form of entertainment for those stuck in quarantine.


Screenshot from Tiger King

Joe Exotic, sitting on a throne next to a portrait of himself. According to Joe, his Garold Wayne Exotic Memorial Park in Oklahoma held 176 tigers in captivity.

This is the first installment of the Clipper’s new entertainment column, Quarantine Curator, devoted to finding entertainment to consume while stuck self-quarantining at home. First on the list is Netflix’s Tiger King.


An enthralling television show about colorful, vicious and cruel predators – and tigers, too. Tiger King is a seven episode Netflix original series chronicling the downfall of Joe Exotic, the eponymous Tiger King. It guides the viewer through a jungle of scandal and drama, while ostensibly being about the exploitation of big cats.

The show’s binge-conducive structure and pure over-the-top madness is sure to keep your mind off our own surreal situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet it’s so blinded by the reflective light of Joe Exotic’s bleached mullet that it equivocates the people who abuse animals with those who are trying to help them, and thus loses any educational value – or worse, risks complicity in that abuse and exploitation. 

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is a true crime documentary miniseries originally released with seven episodes on March 20, 2020. It focuses on the zookeeper Joseph Allen Maldonado Passage, more famously known as Joe Exotic. Right from the start, Joe is captivating as a character. In the words of Bhagavad “Doc” Antle, another zookeeper featured: “He’s a completely insane, gay, gun-toting, drug addict fanatic.” 

“He was like a mythical character,” Rick Kirkham, one-time producer for Joe Exotic’s own “reality television show” (actually his YouTube channel) also says in the opening. The docu-series also introduces the viewer to Joe’s nemesis Carole Baskin, who runs the nonprofit sanctuary Big Cat Rescue. His feud with her is mentioned very early on in the show, and they give a glimpse of what that feud will eventually come to.

Binging this seven hour long series (not including the bonus episode hosted by Joel McHale that Netflix released on April 12) doesn’t feel like seven hours. Partly, this is because of the way the show always has some kind of hook to pull you into the next episode. Whether it’s the revelation that Carole Baskin’s husband disappeared suspiciously, or that Joe Exotic is under federal investigation, there’s always something that makes you say “Just one more!” until you’re done. 

Screenshot from Tiger King
Many of the exotic animal owners in Tiger King (including Jeff Lowe) seem to treat their big cats as status symbols – like one might a sports car or large home.

Yet amidst all this drama, something is lost. We are well acquainted with the king, but his kingdom’s subjects seem to fade into the background. Tiger King seems dead-set on portraying both sides in the conflict as just as bad as the other. Carole Baskin is portrayed as being just as exploitative as Joe Exotic, or at least we’re led to believe so in interviews with people who have every reason to hate her. There’s an absence of real expert opinion on whether or not Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin care well for their cats, and numerous articles have been written on the subject to the effect that actually yes, Joe Exotic is much worse than Carole Baskin – who, for one, doesn’t breed the tigers and continue the cycle of captivity. (These tigers cannot be released back into the wild.)

 PETA lawyer Brittany Peet gave an interview with The Hollywood Reporter detailing some of the inaccuracies of Tiger King, saying, “Looking past the fact that Joe racked up more than 200 violations of the Animal Welfare Act while he was operating, he admitted shooting five tigers in the head just to make room for the tigers he was being paid to board. He indiscriminately sold baby tigers to people he knew were going to bash them in the head with a hammer, or he claimed would kill them in a gas chamber after they were no longer useful for photo ops.” 

 In her review of the series, wildlife biologist Kristina Lynn called the show “irresponsible.”  National Geographic also did a piece on some of the facts ignored in the show.

Tiger King is sure to suck you in with it’s insane drama, and it’s a great way to get your mind off the coronavirus. Just make sure you don’t believe everything you see on TV.