In this Aug. 28, 2013, file photo, Joseph Maldonado answers a question during an interview at the zoo he runs in Wynnewood, Okla. Federal prosecutors on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018, announced that the zookeeper, also known as “Joe Exotic,” and candidate for governor earlier this year, has been charged in a murder-for-hire scheme alleging he tried to hire someone to kill a Florida woman. Prosecutors allege Maldonado-Passage tried to hire two separate people to kill the woman, who wasn’t harmed. Maldonado-Passage finished third in a three-way Libertarian primary in June. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
It has now been a week since I finished the Netflix docuseries everyone has been raving about, and only about 45 minutes ago did I finally mentally recover from it. Naturally, I have things I’d like to discuss.
Tiger King, the Netflix series that is just behind the third season of Stranger Things in terms of the most-watched thing ever on the video streaming service, has captured the attention of people who are sheltering in place at home with little more to do. It is the only series I have ever seen where, somehow, every new person who is introduced is worse than the last person who was introduced. The main cast here is as follows:
- Joe Exotic – The main character, the “Tiger King”, who owned a big cat zoo in Oklahoma and then lost it during legal battles with Carol Baskin. He is currently in prison after being found guilty of hiring someone to kill her.
- Carole Baskin – An animal rights activist who rescues big cats (tigers, lions, etc.) being kept in cages and then brings them to her property where she keeps them in cages. She is repeatedly accused of killing her husband, Don Lewis, and feeding him to her imprisoned cats.
- Howard Baskin – Carole’s current husband. As of press time, he has not been eaten by Carole’s big cats.
- Doc Antle – A guy who owns a big cat zoo and hires young (sometimes underage) female interns and makes them his girlfriends. Probably a cult leader.
- Jeff Lowe – A shady dude who stole the zoo from Joe Exotic and is the most redneck Lex Luthor I’ve ever seen.
- James Garretson – Joe Exotic referred to him as a “giant Chucky doll,” and he got an unnecessarily long scene on a jet ski in the series. He is best known for being a criminal informant for the feds against Joe Exotic.
It took me a week to get mentally prepared to write a review of this series, and in light of all the COVID-19 news out there, it obviously came second to the really important news. However, during this challenging time, it is important to focus on things that make us happy and keep us going. There are few things that have made America happier than Tiger King, and we need to talk about why that is.
When the docuseries guys originally started out, the whole point was apparently to just talk about big cats being owned privately in the United States. It is actually a very real, and very dangerous, issue in the country and there have been attempts to crack down on private ownership as a safety measure. These are, after all, wild animals and you should definitely not try to keep them in your suburban home or literally anywhere else humans live.
What the series creators discovered, however, is that the world of private tiger ownership is so bat-guano crazy that they, like the rest of us, couldn’t look away. And we only saw the edited stuff. Can you imagine the hours upon hours of raw footage these guys had to film and wade through in order to create this masterpiece of television?
I cannot even begin to imagine the therapy needed after that.
The main character of the series, Joe Exotic (real name Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage), owned a zoo in Oklahoma, where he had dozens of animals. Because he had to spend so much to keep that zoo going, there was some shady stuff going on. Like using expired Walmart meat to feed the animals, taking them out back and shooting them when they got sick, and hiring ex-felons to run the place.
Aside from the odd piercings and the bad bleach job, Joe Exotic’s main quirk appears to be turning straight men gay and marrying them. During the series, we see him married to two men at the same time, and the primary allegation against Exotic was that he was keeping them dependent on him with alcohol and methamphetamines. One of the two men – who had three teeth to his name while they were filming – got a girl pregnant and left Exotic and the other husband. The other husband, Travis, was so hooked on meth that he walked into the main office at the zoo and shot himself.
Exotic would mourn briefly before marrying someone else he met while running for president in 2016. That’s right, folks, he ran as an independent against Donald Trump. He also ran for governor of Oklahoma and, if you can imagine it, he got 19 percent of the state’s vote, which may be enough evidence to remove Oklahoma’s status as a state and revert it back into a territory until we can figure out what went wrong.
Exotic’s main adversary is Carole Baskin, the wildlife activist who nonetheless cages the big cats she rescues and then charges people to see them. She harassed people who would host Exotic’s big cat mall tour, brought legal action against him, and made his life hell. I’m not saying Exotic didn’t deserve it, but the documentary made sure to present her as something of a villain in all this, and I don’t think they were necessarily wrong to do that, either.
Exotic is one of two people Baskin had been calling her rabid followers to help shut down. A guy named Bhagavan “Doc” Antle is another person like Joe Exotic, but with less homosexuality, country music videos, and meth while also having 100 percent more harem, cult, and media savvy. The dude straight-up acknowledged he knew what the documentary guys were asking him in some cases and refused to say anything because he knows how the media works.
Doc Antle is a “guru” who runs his own tiger shows, has tons of wild animals, and allegedly cremates them when they die (which is where Joe Exotic screwed up because the feds found animal remains on his property and Doc Antle will never have to worry about that, I guess). He also has, according to the series, this knack for hiring pretty, young (also, pretty young) women as interns and then turning them into his girlfriends. He makes them change their names, get breast implants, dress in very alluring attire, and shows them off to the crowds, all while being well known as a supplier of these wild animals to people (and zoos) who need them.
Antle didn’t have to be featured in a series primarily about the rivalry between Exotic and Baskin, but he is such a flaming sideshow that it couldn’t be helped. Like I said, he’s so savvy that he gave just the right quotes to make his input invaluable without the documentary diving too deep into him (aside from one former “girlfriend” who broke away from the cult).
Baskin’s pressure on Exotic forced him to turn to a guy named Jeff Lowe, who was married but also liked to share his wife with women he’d meet in Las Vegas, and he would smuggle tiger cubs and other animals into his Vegas hotel rooms to bring girls up and take pictures with them before celebrating their new friendship in undressed ways.
Lowe basically came in to save the day for Exotic, providing him with the resources he needed to keep the zoo open and fight back against Baskin. However, he also did all he could to undermine Exotic and render him obsolete at the zoo, essentially stealing it from him.
One of Lowe’s associates was actually (allegedly) hired by Exotic to go kill Baskin, but never went through with it. However, it was enough for the feds to go after him and he was tried and found guilty of doing so.
And that’s where Joe Exotic is now. In prison. But, the legend lives on, and we have all been made aware of it.
At the end of the day, do I feel like a better person for watching it? No. I feel the same sense of regret I feel when I slow down just a little when I see a wreck on the side of the road. I am guilty of watching this train wreck of a series and I feel guilty for doing so. I don’t feel clean. Yet, it is also the best anti-depressant I’ve ever taken, because no matter how bad my life gets, at least I am not one of the people in this series, who have become so wrapped up in their own self-destructive personality quirks that they have left ruin and devastation in their wake.
So, perhaps there is a silver lining in watching this. Perhaps, when all of the shutdowns and the quarantines are over, and when we’re able to go out into our communities again, we will think back on this period of time when we were locked inside for far too long, waiting for the plague to pass us by, and we’ll think about this series and how it made us realize that the sun is still shining, that we have plenty to be thankful for, and that Carole Baskin definitely killed her husband.