With Netflix poised in the coming days to cash in and crank the base up a notch with more Tiger King, it’s time to come out and say it: I hate the Red State porn that is the crash and burn of the Joe Exotic focused docuseries.
Expecting at least one more new episode soon, the initial seven episodes of this septic and shallow patchwork of trademark infringement, sex, guns, labor exploitation, song, drugs, mullets, betrayal, animal activism, revenge, and a lot of big cats may be much binged over these weeks of coronavirus lockdown, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually worth watching.
Now, I get it, I sound like I’m just a dour critic who hates anything that isn’t prestige premium cable or aspirational. C’mon man, you want to say, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is just so unbelievable, I can’t look away.
I respectfully disagree, and in fact, propose Tiger King isn’t just bad, but dangerous in a divided America persistently looking to reduce the other side to caricature.
In a presently ailing nation where TV is more voluminous and vital than ever, the truth is the March 20 launched Tiger King is a clawed white trash misery index. Gawking at some clearly fragile and damaged people like would-be reality TV star Exotic and their below the Mason-Dixon line antics, the series subsequently provides a cultural circus for those smug bicoastals under stay at home orders and screaming to rise up in moral superiority.
Essentially, the tale of big cat collector, self-styled Oklahoma zoo proprietor and 2016 Presidential candidate Exotic (AKA Joseph Maldonado-Passage) and his ultimately unsuccessful attempt to have rival Carole Baskin knocked off by a hitman hired for $3,000, Tiger King is in that context more a zero-sum game, literally and figuratively, than hitting the zeitgeist.
Obviously, Netflix is pretty damn good at gauging and dragging the public mood over the years, as the likes of the then phenomenon of 2015’s Making A Murderer or 2018’s Wild Wild Country prove. Yet, for all the attention it has drawn, this unfocused murder for hire exploration of sorts emerges as a bastard child of Cops, a million Dateline segments from the 1990s and Fox’s short-lived Murder in Small Town X reality show from 2001.
Not exactly the prestige product that the home of Roma, The Irishman and American Factory likes to brag about at award shows. Then again, with the knowledge that the Romans sold out the Colosseum every night feeding Christians to the lions, the bottom line based House of Hastings surely loves the subscription sign up that the currently incarcerated Maldonado-Passage and the accompanying motley gaggle of accomplices, husbands, partners and enemies has hauled in via word of quarantined potty mouth.
If my feelings about Tiger King aren’t clear yet, ask yourself bluntly how badly you felt you needed a shower after watching just one episode, let alone the whole series? Thought so.
However, if strategically released Netflix data of the series is any indication, there’s a constant buoyancy that has kept Tiger King at the top of the streamer’s most watched list these bleak past two weeks. At the same time, as was true in the time of Nero and is true now, almost no one has ever gone broke by low balling and low browing the audience.
Stepping aside the very serious questions of murderous desires and loathsome abuse of animals, as the docuseries itself so often truly does, Tiger King is at its core a deeply stained product of an infotainment America where clown car drivers of both parties are at the helm of a clearly crashing caravan of state and a loose relationship with the truth and facts is a new normal, COVID-19 or not.
Or put it this way, I don’t know if Tampa-based Baskin killed her husband back in 1997 and had him fed to a giant feline, but neither does the Rebecca Chaikin and Eric Goode directed Tiger King. Instead, this self-described saga of Murder, Mayhem and Madness just throws such allegations and anecdotes at the fourth wall in the seemingly successful hope it sticks and stinks just enough to hold your attention.
In that vein, Tiger King is also a postmodern pastiche P.T. Barnum carnival of freaks and oddities, in the most sordid way. An offering that coalesces the worst parts of Natural Born Killers, Joe Dirt and every underhanded reality TV trope together to spoon feed its viewers a sense of righteous glee masked in an ultimately manipulative lens that soils this golden age of documentary worse than a long-neglected litter box.
So, looking for some good TV to fill the long hours at home while the world tries to flatten the rising curve of more coronavirus cases and deaths?
If you want docuseries, Hulu’s four-part Hillary about the former Secretary of State may be long but is also surprisingly revealing, as I said in my not-so-dour review of March 4. In the same genre, the bit sized episodes of the Lena Waithe produced You Ain’t Got These that kicked off on Quibi yesterday delves into the scope of sneaker culture with its own twists, and I ain’t just talkin’ about laces.
Angling for something scripted in this time of pandemic?
Then, after catching up on previous installments, watch the fourth season of Issa Rae’s Insecure on HBO when it premieres on April 12 or the fourth season of CBS All Access’ excellent The Good Fight, which opens on April 9. If you just got to stay with Netflix, then break the digital travel restrictions you may have imposed on yourself and binge the third season of Babylon Berlin that debuted on March 1 or the new fourth season of Money Heist that launched on April 3.
Having said that, along with more Tiger King expected on Netflix this week, Investigation Discovery and SNL’s Kate McKinnon are respectively cooking up their own pots of the soap opera in one way or another. Also, if his eldest son’s jokes on radio yesterday are any road map, Donald Trump may already be contemplating one day pardoning kindred animal spirit Joe Exotic’s “aggressive” sentence and invite him over to the White House to sing.
There’s all that to come, but no matter where you sit on the political spectrum, that still doesn’t give Netflix a free pass for the exploitive crap of Tiger King, no matter how cooped up at home you are.
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.