As zoom meetings rage across the country, cramped indoor exercise classes flourish and inspired crafting sessions take a turn for the worst; there may have been one topic of conversation you could not have escaped even if you live under a rock (unbelievably tempted to make a quarantine pun but nevertheless).

The latest Netflix docu-series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem & Madness is 8 episodes of pure entertainment and escapism at its finest. The series follows the twists and turns in the life of ‘Joe Exotic’, a wild cat zookeeper and the many eccentric people that cross his path in the US exotic animals trade.

Like many people I had no intention of watching this show; after all, the first episode explains clearly the scale of brazen corruption and tyranny about to unravel before your eyes: there are more captive wild cats in the US than there are in the wild. I had to sit with that information for a while as many other people will.

What follows is a tale of murder, jealousy, criminal enterprise and human arrogance that plays against the backdrop of the American dream. Visually, this series stuns in its contradictory shots and unfettered access to arguably one of the most dangerous illegal trades in the world. Footage captured by the production team is remarkably shot before the most disturbing events even start to surface, giving an unparalleled sense of exclusive access for the audience.

In fact, the details of this story become so insidious and darkly comical that it may end up becoming of the strangest yet most visceral documentary experiences you experience.

Haunting shots of wealthy zoo tycoons roaming in Floridian streets on captive elephants is one of the disturbing shots used in this series to illustrate the elusive allure of the boundaryless American dream. The age-old convention that success may be achieved through any means. Even if that comes at the expense of hurting magnificent creatures robbed of a life in their homes.

However, the show undoubtedly has its flaws, none more evident than letting the eccentricities of the oftentimes cruel owners curtail the more obviously tragic story at hand: the plight of captive animals. In fact, towards the last few episodes, the show becomes so engrossed in the criminality of these people that it feels as though its completely ignoring the more pressing issue of animal captivity.

Ever since Wild Wild Country in 2018, Netflix has shown a penchant for gloriously entertaining true crime documentaries. Something that won’t go amiss in these uncomfortable conditions of self-isolation and societal withdrawal. But even with its flaws, this show still manages to highlight issues long masked by the caring face of the animal trading industry.

No matter what camp you end up supporting in the end (Team Joe Exotic or Carole Baskin), one thing that is certain is that Netflix has a hit on their hands with this fantastic series.

4 stars

Image Credit: Movie DB

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