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Wildly popular Netflix series ‘Tiger King’ pierces underbelly of reality TV culture

The Netflix series “Tiger King” is a wildly crazy documentary filled with cartoonish, tragicomic characters. They are knee-deep in murder mysteries, sexual escapades and criminal schemes – not to mention lions, tigers and bears.

Put it all together and you have a slice of tawdry, tasteless TV culture and an addictive tonic for a nation locked down due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin have a created a disturbing and compelling work, piercing the underbelly of reality television culture. You feel like you need a shower after watching it – but you can’t help reveling in the dirt.

“Tiger King” is like a bizarro “Jungle Book” gone mad but since its debut last week has turned into a media sensation and way to cope with Coronavirus cabin fever. A movie is already in the works.

The official title is “Tiger King: Murder Mayhem and Madness.” Think Tarzan meets Quentin Tarantino and the plot is best displayed in the trailer below.

I have to confess that I was alternately appalled and fascinated by “Tiger King” but couldn’t stop watching. The worst part is the animal cruelty and exploitation, and I had to skip over some scenes.

The best parts are the zany characters and their schemes and outrageous personalities. Hollywood could not invent this strange collection of perverted human beings, all tied together by their passion and connections to exotic animals.

We begin with the central character, a guy who dubs himself Joe Exotic. He is covered with tattoos and sports a blond mullet. The former actor and country singer ran an exotic animal park in Wynewood, Okla. That’s where he bred tigers, lions and other animals.

Exotic also ran for president in 2016 and later, governor of Oklahoma. He is gay and the series details his relationship with at least three young men married to him.

Exotic’s chief nemesis is Carole Baskin. She heads an animal rescue group in Tampa to save tigers and big cats. Exotic can’t stand his rival and the series details how he plots to kill her.

But the show also details the mysterious disappearance of Baskin’s millionaire husband. Exotic claims that Baskin murdered her husband, which she vehemently denies.

Other characters include Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, who runs a zoo in Myrtle Beach and is Exotic’s kindred spirit. Antle’s zoo is populated with attractive women and he can often be spotted riding an elephant.

Travis Maldonado is one of Exotic’s young husbands who meets a tragic end during the series. After a short period of mourning, Exotic ties the knot with another young man named Dillon Passage.

Carole Baskin plays a major role in the Netflix series ‘Tiger King.’

Jeff Lowe, Allen Glover and James Garretson join forces with Exotic, until they split over the plot to kill Baskin. Eventually, they turn on Exotic and he winds up in jail.
The list goes on and you have to see these people to believe them.

“Tiger King” ranks as the most popular current TV show in the country, according to Rotten Tomatoes. It is one of the most popular series in Netflix history, and it’s the No. 1 rated show for March.

The show has its critics.

“It is a brutal and sickening binge,” wrote Kate Knibbs in “Wired.” She added that the horrible COVID-19 virus may have added to the series attraction: “Tiger King’s moral repulsiveness remains central to its dark appeal. To pierce the madness of the current moment, it needed sharp claws.”

Maybe. But maybe it’s something bigger. “Tiger King” just might be a metaphor for American culture. Long before the virus, entertainment and cruelty became part of the mainstream of everyday life – in politics, sports, news, television and just about everywhere else.

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