Joe Exotic: King of Netflix (and Tigers)

Ian Proctor, Staff Writer

When the world will look back on the Coronavirus pandemic, many cultural sensations will instantly come to mind – the anti-lockdown protests, the Parks and Recreation at-home reunion special, Andrew Cuomo’s daily press briefings and the 2020 NCAA March Madness tournament’s cancellation. 

One such monument of the lockdowns is that of a peculiar documentary about a humble public servant – A self-described “gay, gun-totin’ redneck with a mullet” named Joe Exotic, subject of the 2020 docu-drama “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness”. And you’d better believe it – “Tiger King” was watched by 34.3 million people over its first 10 days of release, according to Nielsen ratings.

The program focuses on Joseph Maldonado-Passage, otherwise known as Joe Exotic, and his rag-tag gang of zookeepers as they run the world’s largest roadside zoo for tigers. 

As will soon become apparent, Joe Exotic is the epitome of class – episodes feature his misadventures and publicity stunts, such as blowing stuff up, trying to film a reality TV show, turning his zoo into a “Pizzaria,” running for President of the United States, and more.

However, no show can truly be great without a villain, and “Tiger King” luckily fits the bill. Joe’s efforts are frequently opposed by the pesky, no-good Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, FL; and one of them “animal rights people”. It’s also believed (by Joe) that Baskin murdered her second husband and fed him to their tigers.

Baskin frequently maintains that exotic pet keepers like Joe are contributing to animal trafficking and abuse their animals in an effort to gain attention, but Joe and co. know that ain’t true. Joe Exotic’s roadside zoo is a staple of Oklahoman life, although as Joe once said, “People don’t come here to see the tigers… They come here to see me.”

The Netflix documentary also highlights Joe’s personal life, which can be described as similar to Dogg the Bounty Hunter, except he’s the one being bounty-hunted. As detailed in several episodes, Joe Exotic’s feud with Carole Baskin gets increasingly out of hand, with Joe purposefully violating Big Cat Rescue’s trademark, protesting outside of Big Cat Rescue’s property, and putting in the effort to teach Carole Baskin a lesson in each and every one of Joe’s online videos. This totally-two-sided war eventually boils over in the series finale, which in all seriousness is more juicy and shocking than anyone could’ve ever imagined.

Joe’s polyamorous and homosexual relationships are detailed as well, and display Joe’s methods of attracting young, straight men, who are otherwise uninterested in him. I cannot talk about Joe’s exact methods here, but let’s just say they’d make any high-society folk jealous (also Walter White). Even this segment of the show comes to an astounding (albeit tragic) end.

Overall, “Tiger King” is an exhilarating portrait of the cartoon-like Joe Exotic, as well as the exotic pet trade, and his rivalry with activist Carole Baskin. While many viewers may find the show and its star disturbing, low-class, sketchy, obnoxious, and almost-nauseatingly scummy, “Tiger King” is pure entertainment.

And let’s be honest; what else are you doing right now that’s so much better? The payoff of the final episodes is worth it, I assure you.