Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV & Radio
1 April 2020updated 03 Aug 2021 1:14pm

Netflix’s Tiger King is absurd, voyeuristic television

It’s also the most popular show on Netflix right now.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

If, during these long hours of solitude, you find yourself longing for an edifying documentary or perhaps some soothing, glossy escapism, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is not for you. Debuting on Netflix on 20 March, Tiger King is ugly, absurd, voyeuristic television: an ethically dubious and proudly trashy docuseries. It’s also, at the time of writing, the streaming service’s most popular show in the UK and US. 

Set across a number of zoos and wildlife centres in Florida, rural Oklahoma and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, the show explores a community of eccentric wild animal obsessives, and a bitter feud between breeders and animal rights activists. 

The cast of characters is almost psychedelically colourful. There’s Joe Exotic, a leathery Eighties relic with a straw-coloured mullet who has two husbands, over 200 tigers, and a nightly television show he streams live to an audience of around 80. There’s Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, a vegetarian yoga enthusiast who proudly rides his pet elephant around his park, where his multiple young wives live and work 16-hour days under the new names he assigned them on arrival. And there’s Carole Baskin, a softly-spoken woman with flowing blonde hair who wears a flower crown and an expression of permanent concern.

She seeks to close zoos like Exotic’s and Antle’s, but is the subject of dark and outrageous rumours. (If these sound like people straight out of Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends, Exotic did star in a Theroux doc in 2011.)

Tiger King sells itself on its increasingly bizarre twists. What begins as a show about pet tigers ends up involving drug barons, cults and the mysterious disappearance of a multi-millionaire. Binge watch with caution. 

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them

This article appears in the 24 Mar 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Spring special 2021