Imagine, if you will, tigers (and other big cats) were oil and the writers of “Dallas” smoked an ungodly amount of meth before sitting down at their keyboards. The result would probably be much like the unbelievably-not-satirical “Tiger King: Mayhem, Murder And Madness” currently taking a literally captive Netflix audience by storm. Crammed into an inhumanely confined seven episodes, it features a collection of unmitigatedly awful people doing awful things to each other – and frequently to the animals they all, without fail, profess to love above all else.
At the heart of this redneck rumble is Joe Exotic, self-anointed Tiger King and, for want of a better comparison, the head of the ‘Ewings’ in this down-home “Dallas” knock-off. Heading up the rival would-be ‘Barnes’ clan is Carole Baskin, the bête noire of the big cat business – a business which seems to be the exclusive purview of criminals and sexual deviants judging by this show.
As we ride the rollercoaster of emotional, financial and…er…musical ups and downs of Joe and his ‘no shirt? no shoes? no problem!’ harem of husbands, we’re introduced to players, both shadowy and shamelessly showy, in the big cat underworld. Carole Baskin ends up being the least worst person in the whole thing and she probably [allegedly] killed her first husband. From fellow breeders to collectors to ageing sexual predators who use their cubs to seduce kittens, the series is an overflowing septic tank of the vile, the vindictive and the venal.
Joe Exotic himself may be a fantasist, and the documentary is all too keen to fluff his fantasies, breezily underplaying his repeated use of drugs to seduce and entrap his ‘husbands’, leading in one particularly tragic incidence to suicide and his various other illicit activities which end up as mere background details to the ongoing pantomime antics. Lining up alongside Exotic in his increasingly unhinged quest to destroy his personal nemesis are a motley crew of hangers-on and mercenary opportunists, both groups looking to exploit the vanity and anxiety of the self-styled man, the self-made myth, the self-narrated legend. Everything about Joe Exotic is contrived and romanticised by him, for him. His persona is tailored to his own consumption, without a thought for anyone else. Even his dogmatic choice of adversary smacks of a Voldemort-style self-fulfilling prophecy.
It’s clear that the makers of this documentary desperately want to capture that nerve-shredding tension and outrage at the injustice that “Making A Murderer” managed to do (at least in its first season) but it’s too bizarre and too haphazard to achieve anything close. There’s not one single sympathetic character to latch on to, because this is a work filled to the brim with unreliable narrators and filmed by unreliable documentarians. It’s archly manipulative and edited with an eye to obfuscation, creating a knowingly confused and confusing timeline. You might end this series with an opinion on whether or not the central character deserves to be in prison but the real question you’ll likely be asking is why on Earth everyone else isn’t in prison too.
This isn’t a worthy documentary shining a light on a subject which requires public attention (it’s as disinterested in the welfare of the animals as its hypocritical subjects), this is a disingenuous freak show, inviting us to point and laugh at the yokels who ‘want the tooth but can’t handle the tooth’. What a streaming pile of tiger shit.