If you have been lucky enough to read one of my reviews in this newspaper before, you might have noticed a trend: thus far I have only reviewed movies and television shows that are original creations of streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. With so many options out there in today’s digital entertainment world, I must admit that it can sometimes be difficult to pick a movie or series that people would actually care to read about. Once or twice, however, I have come across a piece of media that needs to be reviewed because it has evolved into something much larger: a cultural phenomenon. After seeing numerous memes of a heavily tattooed man with three teeth, hearing more than one reference to husbands being fed to tigers, and seeing many a shout out on social media, it was not long before I saw that Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (or just Tiger King for short) was one such touchstone that demanded my attention if only so I could understand just what the heck everyone was talking about. The hype and buzz are understandable, as Tiger King is one of the most bizarre journeys I have ever taken.
It was also one that occasionally made me feel uncomfortable, if I am 100 percent honest. The real-life people that make up the Tiger King cast are some of the weirdest individuals you will ever meet, and this often makes the show seem like an exercise in mean-spirited mockery. The aforementioned tattooed man with three teeth, for instance, a man named John Finlay, was actually asked to remove his dental bridge to achieve the look because the producers wanted to portray him in a certain way, according to an Us Weekly interview with another star, Doc Antle. That look, one must assume, is “methed out hillbilly.” Even when the show isn’t actively trying to make fun of its subjects or warp the narrative to its own ends, the feeling remained. Or, rather, it remained until I was reminded of another fact: that these people aren’t just weird, a lot of them are also not great people. Some of them are downright unpleasant and dangerous. The “Murder, Mayhem and Madness” is in the title for a reason. So maybe making fun of them is okay? I don’t know, but I do know that questions like this kept me from enjoying the series as much as I could have, but I wouldn’t say this is a fault of the documentary itself.
Because what the documentary sets out to do, it does well (a few narrative biases notwithstanding). Not only was it entertaining, but it was also informative. Who knew there was a heated war over the exotic cat black market trade? I certainly didn’t. The subject is ripe, and in a world saturated with true crime dramas, the story of Joe Exotic the Tiger King and those surrounding him is a breath of fresh air.
Plus, there are plentiful adorable big cats that act like little cats. Who doesn’t like that?
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness is now available on Netflix. It can also probably be found in the conversations of your coworkers, friends, and family.