Your new Netflix obsession: Tiger King

(Image credit: Netflix)

Name: Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness

Where to watch: Netflix

The elevator pitch: The story of an eccentric zookeeper that exposes the messy, furry underbelly of the big cat underworld in America.

Go on… There's never been anything quite like Tiger King. Netflix claims the seven-part series is a true-crime documentary, yet the premise and characters are so entirely batshit that I'm convinced the streaming service is lying. Surely, this is actually a mockumentary and they have mislabelled the third season of American Vandal? How can this be real?!

Well, after doing some research from my quarantined bedroom, the viral sensation that is Tiger King – or, to give the show its full name, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness – looks to be the real deal. The cameras follow Joe Exotic, the mulleted owner of G.W. Zoo who's so unconventional that Danny McBride would struggle to come up with a character even close to being this kooky.

Joe Exotic loves big cats. He owns over 200 of them. People from all over the world visit his zoo and many take pictures with his cubs. So far, so relatively normal-ish. Well, Exotic's not just a zookeeper – he's a part-time country music star with a dozen idiosyncratic music videos that prominently feature tigers (of course). Exotic is also a magician, has two husbands, runs a daily online TV show that's very Alex Jones-ish, loves shooting guns and blowing up dynamite, and currently resides in jail for a crime we won't spoil here.

(Image credit: Netflix)

But Tiger King's not just about the life of one polygamist. As we delve into the furry underbelly of America's big cat underworld, we meet an elephant-riding zookeeper who potentially runs a cult – every woman who joins ends up marrying the same "lord". There's Mario Tabraue, a former drug kingpin who claims to be the basis of Scarface's Tony Montana and is also a collector of exotic animals. He's somehow one of the more calm and collected people in the documentary, and also the only one who consistently wears a shirt. There's also one of Exotic's workers whose arm was ripped off by a tiger, yet she returned to work five days later. Five. Days.

And then there's Carole Baskin, a so-called animal rights activist. All the big cat keepers hate Carole Baskin, and Joe Exotic despises her to an almost obsessive level. Their rivalry is at the centre of Tiger King. Baskin claims to want to free these big cats from a life of cruelty, yet, when she takes them away from their owners, she simply puts them in her own zoo – just her zoo is founded on the basis of animal rights. Baskin makes millions of dollars a year from these animals. However, whereas Exotic pays his employees, Baskin does not – instead, her workers are all volunteers. Exotic also says the animals are mistreated at Baskin's zoo, especially compared to the lives they lead at his own premises, yet that's a little dubious. 

All this leads to some very underhand dealings, incidents of sabotage, and – by the time episode two finishes – a murder mystery that has the whole internet talking. Even the likes of Jarred Leto (yes, that Jarred Leto) has become so obsessed with Tiger King that he's been dressing as Joe Exotic and posing for pictures online with a tiger toy. I did try to tell you – there's never been anything quite like Tiger King. Seven hours has never flown by quicker.

Read more: These are the best Netflix shows and best movies on Netflix

Jack Shepherd
Freelance Journalist

Jack Shepherd is the former Senior Entertainment Editor of GamesRadar. Jack used to work at The Independent as a general culture writer before specializing in TV and film for the likes of GR+, Total Film, SFX, and others. You can now find Jack working as a freelance journalist and editor.