Tiger King (2020)
|Genre||Documentary, Biography, Crime|
|Content Rating||TV-MA (TV-MA)|
|Awards||Nominated for 6 Primetime Emmys13 nominations total|
|Company||A Goode Films Production, Article 19 Films, Library Films|
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness (titled onscreen as simply Tiger King) is an American true crime documentary streaming television miniseries about the life of former zookeeper and convicted felon Joe Exotic. The first season was released on Netflix on March 20, 2020. Its second series was announced in September 2021 and will air on November 17.
The series focuses on the small but deeply interconnected society of big cat conservationists such as Carole Baskin, owner of Big Cat Rescue, and collectors such as Exotic, whom Baskin accuses of abusing and exploiting wild animals.
The first series received positive reviews from critics, and according to Nielsen ratings, was watched by 34.3 million people over its first ten days of release, ranking as one of Netflix's most successful releases to date, partly due to its release amid the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The documentary also inspired several memes online. Despite its success and popularity, the series and its filmmakers have received criticism from conservation and animal rights groups for its framing and inaccuracies related to private breeding and wildlife conservation issues. A special aftershow hosted by Joel McHale was released on April 12, 2020, with McHale interviewing several of its subjects about Exotic and the series itself.
The series explores the deeply interconnected community of big cat conservationists and collectors in America, and the private zoos and animal sanctuaries they have set up for the care and public display of these animals. The series' primary subject is "Tiger King" Joe Exotic, the eccentric owner of the G.W. Zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, and follows his bitter years-long feud with Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida. The series later records the events leading up to Exotic's conviction under federal murder-for-hire statutes, when it comes to light that he paid a hitman to murder Baskin; his convictions also included violations of the Lacey Act and Endangered Species Act, and resulted in a 22-year federal prison sentence.
|No.||Title||Directed by||Original release date|
|1||"Not Your Average Joe"||Eric Goode & Rebecca Chaiklin||March 20, 2020|
|Meet Joe Exotic the gun-toting operator of an Oklahoma big cat park. He's been accused of hiring someone to murder his chief rival Carole Baskin.|
|2||"Cult of Personality"||Eric Goode & Rebecca Chaiklin||March 20, 2020|
|Subjected to long hours little (or no) pay and the whims of eccentric bosses: are big cat park employees just cogs in a web of personality cults?|
|3||"The Secret"||Eric Goode & Rebecca Chaiklin||March 20, 2020|
|An incident in Carole's past casts her in a suspicious light; while she maintains her innocence, Joe is too happy to point the finger at her.|
|4||"Playing with Fire"||Eric Goode & Rebecca Chaiklin||March 20, 2020|
|Joe ramps up his efforts to become an internet and TV star but a mysterious fire and lawsuit threaten his plan until an angel investor appears.|
|5||"Make America Exotic Again"||Eric Goode & Rebecca Chaiklin||March 20, 2020|
|As Joe dives into politics he deals with turmoil and tragedy in his personal life. Meanwhile, the dynamics at the park change with the new owners.|
|6||"The Noble Thing to Do"||Eric Goode & Rebecca Chaiklin||March 20, 2020|
|James Garretson makes a shocking claim about Joe leading to FBI involvement; desperation sets in for Joe, who thinks Jeff and James have set him up.|
|7||"Dethroned"||Eric Goode & Rebecca Chaiklin||March 20, 2020|
|Joe faces the music in the courtroom but insists the story is far from over. Jeff's business prospects crumble. Former G.W. Zoo workers try to move on.|
|8||"The Tiger King and I"||Eric Goode & Rebecca Chaiklin||April 12, 2020|
|Special after-show hosted by Joel McHale.|
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the series holds an approval rating of 89% based on 75 reviews, with an average rating of 7.88/10. The site's critics consensus reads: "A bizarre true crime story you have to see to believe, Tiger King is a messy and captivating portrait of obsession gone terribly wrong." On Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score to reviews from mainstream publications, the series has an average score of 75 out of 100, based on 13 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Variety magazine's Caroline Framke called the series "messy yet compelling" and that for "those who love Netflix's particular flavor of true crime and docuseries, Tiger King will undoubtedly scratch a particular itch." Joshua Rivera at The Verge said that "very minute of Tiger King yields some new surprise, an unbelievable turn or charismatic stranger with incredible stories to tell."
Although the series has a positive reception overall, the special aftershow hosted by McHale received criticism.
According to Nielsen, the series was watched by 34.3 million people over its first 10 days of release, ranking as one of Netflix's most successful releases to date. It has been suggested that its viewership success was aided by the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused many global viewers to be restricted to their homes around the time of its release. At their Q2 report meeting in July 2020, Netflix reported the series had been viewed by 64 million households over its first month of release.
At an April press conference regarding COVID-19, then-U.S. President Donald Trump was questioned about the possibility of pardoning the series' key subject, Joe Exotic. Trump said he was unaware of him and the series but told the reporter that he'd "take a look". In January 2021, prior to the Inauguration of Joe Biden, Trump pardoned several different people, but Exotic wasn't one of them. Exotic tweeted that he was "too innocent and too gay" to receive a pardon from Trump.
Criticism for depiction of conservation issues
Animal welfare groups, conservation organizations and wildlife biologists have criticized the series and its filmmakers.
Several conservation and animal rights groups criticized the filmmakers for framing private big cat breeding as a legitimate form of conservation. Representatives from Wildlife Conservation Society, World Wide Fund for Nature, Panthera Corporation and National Geographic criticized the show for its equivocation of the unregulated private breeding with captive breeding for species reintroduction, highlighting that the latter is strictly controlled by the Species Survival Plan and only takes place in zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Privately bred cats cannot be reintroduced to the wild as several of the private breeders interviewed suggested, as they would be unlikely to survive in the wild, and are likely hybrids which could cause genetic pollution.
The filmmakers were also criticized for implying that roadside zoo operations are as legitimate as accredited zoos, and Big Cat Rescue specifically. The series and director have suggested Big Cat Rescue's enclosures are small or do not meet ethical standards, but their facilities meet humane standards set out by Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. Elle noted that Baskin was portrayed as hypocritical for keeping the tigers in captivity instead of releasing them, without explaining that doing so was not an option—being captive-bred from mixed stock, as well as in-effect domesticated, meant they were unsuited to either survive in the wild or rebuild regional populations. Michael Webber, director of The Elephant in the Living Room, also criticized the parallels drawn between the private zoos and Big Cat Rescue. The series was also accused of minimizing Baskin's efforts to lobby Congress for stricter legislation on animal trafficking.
"Goode brings to Tiger King the intellectual rigor and social responsibility of ... a nightclub and hotel developer", Peter Frick-Wright, who had produced Cat People, a podcast series covering the American big-cat industry, wrote in Outside. He found the series particularly unfair to Baskin, pointing out that in focusing on her husband's disappearance so much it failed to distinguish her from Exotic and Antle, barely mentioning that Big Cat Rescue only accepts tigers confiscated by law enforcement or from owners who could no longer handle them—owners who had to sign a contract with heavy financial penalties if they owned another big cat or were even photographed with one, a provision not mentioned in the series. Baskin also forbids volunteers or staff from touching the animals; they are fired for doing so, Frick-Wright wrote.
Others criticized the sympathetic portrayal of Joe Exotic. The director of Animals Asia Foundation expressed disappointment that the Netflix series "does not fully condemn many of the activities that was involved with" and criticized the filmmakers for downplaying the animal cruelty and commercial purposes of Exotic's zoo. Conversely, Baskin is the only source in the series from the conservation sector, and the only source explaining why keeping the wild animals was abusive, but is depicted in an unsympathetic light.
Some criticism noted the lack of clear environmental or conservation message. An article in The New York Times drew parallels with other recent wildlife films like Blackfish, which had a major impact on their subject matter. Blackfish led to a severe drop in ticket sales at SeaWorld and reduced support for cetaceans in captivity, eventually leading to changes in legislation and practices. The producer of Blackfish criticized Tiger King, saying that issues surrounding big cats were "lost in the show's 'soap opera-esque drama'". Karl Ammann, a photographer and documentarian specializing in the illegal wildlife trade who was approached to be interviewed by the filmmakers of Tiger King, similarly expressed disappointment at the lack of conservation message in the series, saying "to totally ignore such key aspects was a real missed opportunity".
PETA and the Humane Society of the United States, both of which had previously investigated and campaigned against the animal abuse of Exotic and other private breeders featured in the show, responded more positively to Tiger King for raising the profile of the issue of big cats in captivity. However, PETA noted the series "largely skips over serious issues of animal welfare, including the horrors of cub trafficking and the problems with commercial cub-petting attractions".
Awards and nominations
|2020||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series||Chris Smith, Fisher Stevens, Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin||Nominated|
|Outstanding Directing for a Documentary/Nonfiction Program||Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin (for "Cult of Personality")||Nominated|
|Outstanding Music Composition for a Documentary Series or Special (Original Dramatic Score)||Mark Mothersbaugh, John Enroth and Albert Fox (for "Not Your Average Joe")||Nominated|
|Outstanding Picture Editing for Nonfiction Programming||Doug Abel, Nicholas Biagetti, Dylan Hansen-Fliedner, Geoffrey Richman and Daniel Kohler (for "Cult of Personality")||Nominated|
|Outstanding Sound Editing for a Nonfiction or Reality Program (Single or Multi-Camera)||Ian Cymore, Rachel Wardell and Steve Griffen (for "Cult of Personality")||Nominated|
|Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Nonfiction or Reality Program (Single or Multi-Camera)||Jose Araujo, Royce Sharp, Jack Neu and Ian Cymore (for "The Noble Thing to Do")||Nominated|
|2021||Hollywood Music in Media Awards||Best Original Score in a Documentary TV Series||Mark Mothersbaugh, John Enroth, Albert Fox and Robert Mothersbaugh||Nominated|
|MTV Movie & TV Awards||Best Real-Life Mystery or Crime Series||Tiger King||Nominated|
|Producers Guild of America Awards||Outstanding Producer of Non-Fiction Television||Chris Smith, Fisher Stevens, Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin||Nominated|
Response from those depicted
Joe Exotic is the main focus of the series, with the documentary causing him to receive significant amounts of attention on social media. Ironically, despite the series being responsible for his worldwide fame and fanbase, he has not watched the series himself, due to being arrested prior to its release. Nevertheless, Netflix interviewed Exotic in jail, asking what he thinks of both the series and his newfound fame. Exotic stated that he loved the fame, but wished he could experience it firsthand. He also expressed remorse for his actions after being in jail, stating to his fans;
Go sit in a cage with your animals for a week. I mean, when I left the zoo and I sent my chimpanzees to the sanctuary in Florida and imagined what my chimpanzees went through for 18 years, I'm ashamed of myself.
Exotic added that he's "done with the Carole Baskin saga." In 2021, he began criticising some of the other people featured in the documentary, stating that "not one person came forward until the Netflix series came out and they could profit from it."
Carole Baskin and her husband Howard felt betrayed by filmmakers, stating she was told the discussion of Joe Exotic and Baskin's missing husband were just for context.
In a post on the Big Cat Rescue website, Baskin said that the show "has a segment devoted to suggesting, with lies and innuendos from people who are not credible, that I had a role in the disappearance of my husband Don 21 years ago" and that the series "presents this without any regard for the truth". Baskin has never been charged with anything related to Don's disappearance and has always denied having anything to do with it. In partial response to Baskin, director Goode stated while he felt Baskin had the right intention, he questioned if "it was fair to keep these tigers in cages", adding that the tigers "pace neurotically" and that "Sometimes you wonder whether or not one should humanely euthanize these cats instead of suffer in cages". Baskin preemptively answered that "... our goal is to end having them in cages and have no need for a sanctuary like ours. Our federal bill, the Big Cat Public Safety Act, would stop the cub petting that drives the breeding and end ownership as pets in back yards." In addition, Goode and Chaiklin insisted that Baskin "wasn't coerced" into answering questions about her former husband.
In February 2021, Baskin revealed that she had been asked to feature in a planned second season of the show, but she refused and told the producers to "lose her number".
Doc Antle was disappointed with his portrayal in the series, calling it a 'train wreck of entertainment' and "salacious." Antle said in an interview that he was not told that the series would be about the bitter feud between Baskin and Exotic, and said that he would've preferred to be "left out of it";
This is not a documentary. This is a salacious, outrageous ride through a television show produced to create drama, to just tie you in to some crazy train wreck of a story between the feud of Carole Baskin and Joe Exotic. Questions about Carole and Joe were a dozen or so thrown into hundreds of others. And I repeatedly told them, I have no desire to be involved in some show where you got the feud of Carole and Joe going on. It's not my thing. Leave me out of it.
The neutrality of this section is disputed. (May 2020)
Following the release of the Netflix series, Robert Moor, the creator of an earlier podcast about Joe Exotic, posted a tweet stating "Saff, the person who got mauled by the tiger, told me repeatedly that he is trans, prefers to be called Saff, and uses he/him pronouns. So please do likewise." Media outlets criticized the series for misgendering and deadnaming Saffery by their birth name ". LGBTQ Nation contrasted Netflix's treatment of Saffery with their recent collaboration with GLAAD, an LGBTQ media watchdog group, on a campaign raising "transgender visibility in the entertainment industry". Saffery clarified to Esquire,
On a daily basis, I am called 17 different things. I never really took it to heart.or context, my conversation with Rob was that he asked me, 'What do you prefer? Saff or Kelci?' And of course, I said Saff because that's what I've been called for the past 20 years. I was in the Army prior to the park and they always use last names. So, Saff was my preferred name. And I've always gone by him since I could say that out loud. My family was always very supportive—it was never an issue.
Regarding whether he identified as a trans man, Saffery stated to Out magazine, "I don't know that that describes me. You know, nothing was done. I really just have lived this lifestyle. And, you know, my family knows this. And obviously, people closest to me know. This is how I've lived my entire life. I don't know anything else."
On April 14, 2020, TMZ released the special Tiger King: What Really Went Down?, which featured footage unseen in Tiger King.
A limited series adaptation is in development, headed by Universal Content Productions. It will be based on a podcast Joe Exotic: Tiger King by the writer Robert Moor, with Kate McKinnon set to executive-produce and portray Carole Baskin. The series was originally to air on NBC, Peacock, and USA Network. In May 2021, it was announced that the series would be streaming exclusively on Peacock. Filming began in Brisbane, Australia on July 12, 2021.
A limited series titled Joe Exotic: Tigers, Lies and Cover-Up premiered on September 27, 2020, on Investigation Discovery. A TV special titled Joe Exotic: Before He Was King premiered on September 28, 2020.
On April 8, 2020, Deadline Hollywood reported that Ryan Murphy is in talks to produce a film or limited series for Netflix with Rob Lowe starring as Joe Exotic.
On May 4, 2020, Variety reported that Nicolas Cage had been cast to portray Exotic in an eight-episode television series based on a Texas Monthly article about Exotic. The series is produced by Imagine Entertainment and CBS Television Studios, and Dan Lagana will serve as writer, showrunner, and executive producer. In September 2020, it was announced that the series had officially been picked up for development at Amazon Prime Video. In July 2021, it was announced that Amazon had shelved the project.
On April 5, 2021, British documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux released a new documentary on Exotic, titled Shooting Joe Exotic, on BBC Two in the United Kingdom. The documentary contained unseen footage of Exotic from a previous documentary by Theroux, America's Most Dangerous Pets (2011), as well as new interviews of other people associated with Exotic, including Exotic's legal team, his estranged brother and niece, and the Baskins.
In September 2021, Netflix announced a second series to Tiger King called Tiger King 2, which they stated "will have just as much mayhem and madness as the first season." It will be released on November 17.