"The word-of-mouth surrounding Netflix’s latest true-crime series, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness, has been so powerful it’s transcended social distancing to get every person I know hooked on the demented tale of polygamist, gay, country-singing, zoo-owning, presidential candidate and murder-for-hire felon with a bleached blonde mullet, Joseph Schreibvogel Maldonado-Passage—aka 'Joe Exotic'—and his arch-nemesis: preeminent cat lady, busy body, wearer of flower crowns, and widow of suspicious circumstances, the truly inimitable Carole Baskin," says Kevin Fallon. "Despite that Stefon bit of a plot description, Tiger King is, in many ways, what we’ve come to expect from one of these Netflix shows. That is to say, it is entertaining enough while egregiously overhyped: erratically paced, stretched too thin, plagued by format confusion—Why is the director suddenly in the scene? Now there are reenactments?—and not sure of its ultimate point. ('Uhh...animal conservation, I guess?' seems to be the gist of the hasty last few minutes.)" Fallon adds: "Normally, I would be disgusted by Tiger King’s entire tone. It doesn’t take the most astute cultural critic to point out that the real zoo here is the show’s subjects, a crass kind of poverty porn that spins systemic downtroddenness into hillbilly laughs and serves up the interests, relationships, and realities of rural America into something to be gawked at and amused by...People are subtitled even though they’re speaking English. Guns are accessories more common than purses. A startling number of plot points revolve around either Walmart or Applebee’s. One main character inexplicably never puts on a shirt while being interviewed, another does his while taking a bubble bath in denim jeans, while several others are noticeably high while speaking. Color me shocked when meth shows up in the narrative. But Joe Exotic seems to represent something removed from the questionable ethics of all that. For one, there’s the fact that, as we learn within minutes of the premiere, he is a convicted criminal. But there’s also something cathartic in the megalomania behind his takedown, like a certain kind of wish-fulfillment for a redneck Donald Trump."
Tiger King is 2020 in a nutshell: "It would be a gross understatement to say that life as we know it is currently off the rails," says Chelsea Steiner. "We are not merely off the rails, but the rails themselves have been ripped up, melted down, and twisted into the kind of nightmare furniture that Delia Deetz would use to furnish her haunted country home. Art and pop culture often respond to these extraordinary times, acting as a mirror that reflects our own experiences. And in this, the year of our lord 2020, that mirror has arrived, covered in tiger fur, sequins, and pink camo assault rifles. I am talking of course about Netflix’s new true crime docuseries Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness."
Imprisoned Joe Exotic is said to be "over the moon" by all the publicity: "You can hardly talk to him without him mentioning the amount of press he’s getting," says Tiger King co-director Rebecca Chaiklin. "He says people are asking to see his Prince Albert and girls are sending him sexy bikini pictures even though he’s gay. He’s over the moon. Having kept in pretty close touch with him while he’s been in a horrible county prison, this has raised his spirits. Joe definitely did some horrible things to his animals. He was very abusive to them and he shot five tigers, no question about it. But what has happened to him has also been hard."
The songs that are presented as Joe Exotic’s … aren’t: "Joe’s music, and the story behind it, is far stranger than even Tiger King’s five hours can encompass," says Sam Adams, noting they were actually written and performed by Washington state musicians Vince Johnson and Danny Clinton. "Joe Exotic didn’t write any of the songs, and he didn’t even sing on most of them, although a few seem to feature his vocals mixed low over Collins’ and Johnson’s recordings," says Adams. "But it’s hard to imagine them being sung—or being pretended to be sung—by anyone else. They’re as specific to his life as Taylor Swift’s musical diary entries are to hers, full of references and name-drops that are inexplicable unless you know the stories behind them."