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Tiger King: larger than life, crazier than imagined

The obnoxious but true story of Tiger King draws viewers in.
Illustration: Amber Malom • The Sentry

Netflix’s newest sensation brings people in isolation together

In a world divided by, well, many things, one man has emerged from the darkness to deliver salvation. His name is Joe Exotic, and that’s the most normal thing about him.

Such is the premise of Netflix’s smash hit documentary, Tiger King. Nielsen estimates that ten days after its release, 34 million people watched it in the US, making it the country’s #1 Netflix show for three weeks. Social media also shows how popular the show has become. In March, Joe Exotic had 44,000 Instagram followers – he now has almost 450,000. Even politicians are sharing Tiger King memes. And all of this is great, because Tiger King is what the world needed.

Some reviewers have criticized the show for its inaccurate portrayal of events, glamorizing the mistreatment of animals, and ignoring characters’ blatant misogyny and racism. But according to Noel Murray, “It’s a highly watchable docu-series, with insights into the grandiose delusions of self-made celebrities in the internet age.” Tiger King thus provides a welcome escape from the world’s current situation. It deals with controversial personalities and topics but does not demand viewers side with one party over the other. Characters are simply presented as they are and in their own words, allowing viewers to take in the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

In the show’s first five minutes, viewers are treated to a montage of news reports, a lion being called a “sexy beast,” and a zookeeper calling from prison to say he’s been threatened with a 79-year sentence. The show then introduces a roller-coaster of plot twists that would rival even the best Christopher Nolan film. Just when it might have reached its zenith of zany, it pulls out the carpet from under viewers’ feet and sucker punches them in the gut. Big cats, guns, amputees, polyamory, a man who calls himself a god, a Presidential bid against Donald Trump, and possibly a man being chopped up and fed to tigers. Oh, and it climaxes with a murder-for-hire plot.

Yeah, good luck figuring that one out.

Tiger King hooks viewers, and then just serves up one plot twist after another. Thought Inception was mind-blowing? Think again. The story? Impeccable. The characterization? 100% believable –  a few episodes in. The plot twists? No one will ever see them coming. It’s all delivered so fluidly, it  never loses track of what’s going on.

The whole affair is so ludicrous it’s hard to even believe it’s a documentary. Such a controversial topic could have easily made an already stressful global situation worse, but Tiger King does the opposite. It does not aim to provide insightful analysis or take itself too seriously. It just entertains. The focus is on vivid personalities, not whether their actions are right or wrong. With everything going on right now, it’s great to occasionally just sit back and laugh. So do. Don’t get too invested in the story and its morality. Just strap in and enjoy the ride.

Rating: 227 free range tigers/10

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