Train Wreck Review: Tiger King

What would a quarantine edition newsletter be without a Tiger King review? Where the heck did this show come from?! Out of nowhere the Netflix-reaching world was collectively binging, and then talking about and creating memes for a limited-series documentary about big cat owners. Now, we’re not talking big cats like Maine Coons (look it up if you’re not familiar) – we’re talking BIG cats: exotic animals not meant to be kept as pets. Who knew the big cat industry was a not-so-underground world of exotic animal trade akin to a network TV soap-opera?? And that it was…complete with love (err…lust), drugs, politics, murder, and of course – country music. Read on for more, but be warned: this is your spoiler alert!

The basis for the documentary is a series of former employees who recount their experiences at various big cat parks – not just Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (aka “G.W. Zoo”) in Oklahoma, owned by lead character Joseph Maldonado-Passage (aka “Joe Exotic”). With cultish devotion, these employees detail the conditions they lived in (not great), how the animals were treated (also, not great), and what it was like to work for a foul-mouthed, controlling, gun-toting polygamist, who when he wasn’t running for political office (what?!?!), was plotting the various ways he could kill his arch nemesis: Carole Baskin. How did it take us this long to mention Carole Baskin?! With a creepily even-keeled tone, Carole tells us all the ways her zoo is more humane than the rest. But hey all you cool cats and kittens – don’t be fooled! It’s likely she killed her second husband, fed him to the cats, and then claimed his fortune to fuel her big cat obsession. As she sits next to her third husband Howard describing the millions they have spent on law suits against Joe Exotic, you can’t help but feel like she is his puppet-master and he knows not to step out of line.

As the story progresses, an employee loses a limb to a tiger, the zoo loses money/employees/patrons, animals lose their lives, and Joe experiences a series of loss: the gubernatorial race, his first husband (to a woman), his second husband (to suicide), his zoo (to Jeff Lowe), and eventually his freedom. It’s no secret that he is in jail – we know that from the first episode when he is interviewed via phone from the correctional facility where he is serving a 22-year jail sentence for conspiring to kill Carole Baskin, as well as a string of animal abuse charges. But that’s just what they could prove – there is so much more to this story, and not just Joe’s story. While G.W. Zoo is where most of the drama takes place during the seven episodes, it should be noted that Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, Tim Stark, and Jeff Lowe are arguably just as scummy of people – with just as much to hide. Here’s hoping for season two – the Doc Antle story. Afterall, we have been promised by most of the characters that “this story is far from over.” (Cheering!)

Animal lovers (and those with a heart) will be pleased to hear that PETA helped rescue 39 tigers, three bears, two baboons, and two chimpanzees from Joe’s zoo. All 46 animals are now thriving at more reputable sanctuaries.

In conclusion, if you gravitate to shows that make you feel as though you’re witnessing a dumpster fire – you’re not going to want to miss this.  Two thumbs up!

NML NPS Rating:  9 but gets a 10 if you watch while enjoying pizza topped with expired meat.

Review by Jenni Padgett