In the cozy days before the Christmas 2015, a gripping Netflix docuseries rocketed from little buzz to a national fascination. Chronicling a bizarre homicide investigation in rural Wisconsin, “Making A Murderer” kept plenty of people couch-ridden that winter. Now that we’re all social distancing, another docuseries from Netflix is bubbling unexpectedly to the surface of pop culture.
“Tiger King” is like “Making A Murderer” meets “Eastbound and Down.” Even Kim Kardashian is in its thrall. As I write this, there is a girl on the sidewalk outside my window telling her friend to watch the show.
Released on March 20, the seven-part limited series charts the rise and fall of Joe Exotic, “the gun-toting operator of an Oklahoma big cat park,” who’s “been accused of hiring someone to murder his chief rival, Carole Baskin,” as Netflix describes it.
By Tuesday, only four days after its debut, “Tiger King” was the most popular viewing option on the entire streaming service. The memes are coming in steadily now too. It only takes about five minutes of the first episode to understand why.
“Tiger King’s” twists and turns rival those of “Making a Murderer,” and this time around, there’s at least something to laugh at too. (You’ll also find similar questions of class and regional tension.) Something wild, if you’ll excuse the pun. Joe Exotic is a character like none other. His zoo is a land of unbelievable intrigue. Baskin brings her own remarkably bizarre story to the table as well.
So compelling is the feud between the Tiger King and Baskin that Kim Kardashian West took a break from her raging feud with Taylor Swift to get in on the action. “Wow,” she tweeted Monday, “the amount of texts I’ve gotten about Tiger King since I tweeted about it all have mentioned their belief that Carol killed her husband!”
“What are your thoughts? Do you think Carol killed him?” asked the criminal justice reform activist.
Kardashian West was referring to the allegations explored in “Tiger King” that Baskin murdered her husband Don Lewis, who went missing under mysterious circumstances in 1997. Joe, as you might expect, faces criminal allegations of his own. Within two days of the series’ release, Baskin self-published a long post attempting to debunk the allegations on her website.
“The series presents this without any regard for the truth or in most cases even giving me an opportunity before publication to rebut the absurd claims,” Baskin wrote. “They did not care about truth. The unsavory lies are better for getting viewers.”
Those viewers can make up their own minds. “Making A Murderer” elicited a major cultural reaction, spawning at least one follow-up season, plenty of parodies, and a world of internet sleuths. As much of the country finds itself with extra time on its hands, “Tiger King” is marking its place in television history.
“Tiger King’s” unlikely surge makes a lot of sense. The case, which is literally unbelievable, was handled by superbly skilled storytellers, who benefitted from access to years of footage and cooperation from an impossibly eccentric cast of characters. It’s the streaming equivalent of a page-turner, and a surefire way to easily pass a few nights in self-quarantine. It deserve to be a cultural sensation.
For just a taste of “Tiger King’s” irresistible drama, watch “Here Kitty Kitty,” Joe Exotic’s hilariously disturbing musical interpretation of Lewis’s disappearance.