Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness


Mathias Appel

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mathiasappel/42749035521/

Thomas Remillard, Contributor

When the world was shutting down in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, a Netflix docuseries produced by Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness, became a smash hit. After being released on March 20th, Tiger king broke the record for minutes streamed in a week, racking up 5.3 billion minutes in the week of March 23rd. The seven-part documentary follows the life of its zoo-owning main character, Joe Exotic. The docuseries takes place primarily at The Greater Wynnewood Zoo in Wynnewood, Okla.  Although covering a wide range of topics, characters, and dilemmas, the series primarily focuses on the feud between Joe Exotic and his animal rights activist nemesis residing in Florida, Carole Baskins. 

To describe Joe Exotic as eccentric would be an understatement. Joseph Moldenado-Passage, as he is legally known, is far from your typical zoo owner. He is a larger-than-life personality, a person who always had his eyes set on fame at a higher level. In addition to owning and operating a private zoo with over 200 big cats, Joe Exotic also ran an internet show every night, performed in a traveling zoo program, and ran for both president of the United States in 2016, and governor of Okla. in 2018.  In episode five of the docuseries, Joe is asked “Is America ready for the first redneck, gun-toting, mullet-sporting, tiger-tackling, gay polygamist president?” Evidently, America was not, as Republican Donald Trump went on to win the Presidential election in 2016. 

A large part of what makes Tiger King so successful is its slew of supporting characters and the various entertaining, and often bizarre, interactions Joe has with them. Joe’s romantic life is a common theme throughout the series. In the beginning, Joe is married to John Finley. Later, Joe and John married a third man, 19-year-old Travis Moldenado. This unusual marriage arrangement proves to provide an interesting dynamic to the story of the Tiger King. 

The main conflict in the docuseries is the ongoing feud between Joe and his animal rights rival, Carol Baskins. Throughout the series, Joe and Carol are constantly clashing, with Joe harassing Carole over her so-called big cat sanctuary, and Carole filing multiple lawsuits against Joe. This ongoing conflict is the underlying theme of the entire series and ends up being the downfall of the Tiger King, Joe Exotic. 

Tiger King, is, without a doubt, one of the most bizarre, yet intriguing docuseries out there. Although it at times seems like it is more of a reality TV show than a documentary, the series utilizes all original footage and interviews. The series is not overly-educational by any means; however, it provides a unique glimpse into the bizarre subculture of exotic animal owners in America, a subculture most Americans are not aware of or familiar with. The series is worth a watch for anyone who is looking for a mind-blowing, thought-provoking, and at times comical docuseries.