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Tiger King: A Drug-Fueled Journey Of Danger And Debauchery

March of this year has seen the arrival of many earth-shattering and ground-breaking developments, from a nationwide lockdown to congressional insider trading. However, nothing is as wildly outlandish or as guiltily entertaining as the epic saga of death, drugs and debauchery that is “Tiger King: Murder, Madness, and Mayhem.”

Starring the mulleted, flamboyantly gay and gun-toting owner of over 200 lions, tigers and crossbreeds on a private zoo in rural Oklahoma with a felonious business partner who is an FBI informant, this story has it all.

The seven-part docuseries follows Joe Shriebvogel, better known as Joe Exotic, on his journey from being the owner of the largest private zoo in America to becoming the convicted mastermind behind a murder-for-hire plot. Joe’s eccentric journey includes a curious cast of characters, each more unbelievable than the last. From the convicted felons to the down-and-out drug addicts, Joe is surrounded by a litany of people living on the fringes of society, and the Greater Wynnewood Zoo is home to them all. 

Every minute of “Tiger King” yields some new surprise, an unbelievable turn or charismatic stranger with incredible stories to tell. Beginning with the golden era of the G.W. Zoo — thanks in part to inspiration from other private zoo owners such as Doc Antle and Tim Stark —  it quickly dissolves into a year-long feud ending in Joe hiring a hitman for $3000 to travel to Florida with a crossbow. While the crux of the story is Joe Exotic’s antics at the G.W. Zoo, it peppers the narrative with humorous anecdotes. 

The documentary plays fast and loose with these anecdotes, as Joe Exotic shows us how he married two men at once, went into business with a guy who snuck tiger cubs into Vegas casinos and how he nearly got mauled by one of his own lions. Still, it is not all fun and games. With no warning, the show dives into immensely dark territory, as the subjects recount abusive and manipulative relationships, a brutal suicide and Joe’s continuing campaign against Carole Baskin. Joe Exotic believes Baskin killed her wealthy husband for money. 

Since its meteoric rise to infamy, the docu-series has provoked ire from many of the supporting characters in the series. Carole Baskin, Jeff Lowe and Doc Antle have all spoken up regarding their portrayal. Baskin has since posted a 3000-word blog titled “Refuting Netflix Tiger King,” alleging that she was misled in regards to the scope of the docu-series and that she was portrayed in a negative light to boost ratings.

“There are not words for how disappointing it is to see that the series not only does not do any of that, but has had the sole goal of being as salacious and sensational as possible to draw viewers,” wrote Baskin.

Co-directors and writers Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin responded to Baskin in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. Chaiklin said they “were completely forthright with the characters,” explaining that, over the course of the five year development, stories twisted and turned in unpredictable ways. They simply followed it to its conclusion. 

“She knew that this was not just about … it’s not a ‘Blackfish’ because of the things she spoke about,” said Goode. “She certainly wasn’t coerced.”

 They continued to explain that Baskin had freely given the information about her personal life, marital abuse and death of her second husband Don Lewis.

Bhagavan “Doc” Antle also expressed similar sentiments in a recent video interview. 

“This is a salacious, outrageous ride through a television show produced to create drama, to just tie you into some crazy train wreck of a story between the feud of Carole Baskin and Joe Exotic and the meltdown that ensued between two people who both are far too close to murder themselves, and I think a little bit of madness thrown in on their parts” said Antle.

The number one show in the US on Netflix, Tiger King scratches the true-crime itch and will easily keep a quarantined audience entertained. With each episode having a run-time close to an hour, it will take you the better part of a day to consume, leaving you astounded, a little queasy and wishing for more.

Ian Anzlowar is a Staff Write. He can be reached at ianzlowa@uci.edu