Tiger King, Netflix’s latest true crime offering, doesn’t just deal with a murder-for-hire plot. It also delves into the wild lives of roadside zoo keepers and animal breeders like Joe Exotic and Doc Antle, animal rights advocates (sort of?) like Carole Baskin, and a whole cast of characters in between. After viewing the series, the Ringer staff came together to debrief—and to share their collective disbelief in what they just watched.
1. What is your tweet-length review of Tiger King?
Jordan Ligons: Ever wonder what tigers, true crime, bold fashion choices, country music, a crazy cat lady, a gay throuple, and the Feds look like together on screen? Then stop what you’re doing and watch Tiger King. Oh, and Shaq is there, too.
Kevin O’Connor: I’ll never watch Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman again. It’s way too long. But I’m already on my second viewing of Tiger King. What does that say about me?
Jason Concepcion: The first unspoilable show in entertainment history. It is indescribable. Nothing I could tell you (i.e., one of the characters is alleged to have killed her second husband and fed his body to tigers) could lessen the shocks.
Shaker Samman: If you turned this in as a script, you’d be laughed out of the room. Nothing could possibly be this absurd, right?
Alison Herman: The new Wild Wild Country—not only because it’s also a Netflix true crime series featuring a megalomaniac who goes by Bhagavan, but also because America is, indeed, a wild, wild country that creates and enables people like Joe Exotic.
Amelia Wedemeyer: Uh, what the fuck did I just watch? … Can I have more, please?
Megan Schuster: None of my real thoughts on Tiger King could ever be constricted to 280 characters, so instead here are some quick things I’ll never forget: Prince Albert padlocks; Joe’s gift shop announcement; Doc Antle’s elephant; Doc Antle’s sex slaves; Carole Baskin’s wedding photos.
Jason Gallagher: Documentaries have to retire now. So do music videos.
2. What was the best moment of the series?
Herman: The triple wedding may be dubiously legal, but it was also genuinely sweet!
Ligons: The horribly awkward wedding with Joe Exotic and his two new husbands, John Finlay and Travis Maldonado. The pink cowboy outfits were … a choice. And Joe was the only one who cracked a smile! The whole thing was so odd, yet I couldn’t look away. Also, this.
Samman: My heart says the incredible JET SKI MONTAGE in the series finale.
David Shoemaker: There are too many “big” moments in the series—too many twists and turns. When you’re watching a series about captive tigers, you’re always kind of waiting for the car crash, so I guess the two crash moments were (1) when Kelci “Saff” Saffery got her arm bitten off, and (2) the first time we heard one of Joe Exotic’s country songs.
Concepcion: Well, “best” is not a word I would use to describe anything in this series. The most weirdly genius moment is Joe Exotic’s music video for his song “Here Kitty Kitty,” which is about a woman feeding her husband’s carcass to tigers.
McConnell: I spent the entire series wondering when they were going to drop “Eye of the Tiger,” and when they did, man, it did not disappoint.
O’Connor: Joe Exotic running as a Libertarian without having any idea what Libertarians stand for had me howling with laughter. Will someone please put Joshua Dial and his vaping ass on a reality TV show? Walmart store manager turned campaign manager turned reality star. Make it happen.
3. What was your least favorite part of the series?
Samman: While the show itself is a cultural feat of epic proportions and I enjoyed watching it, I left every episode feeling worse about the world.
Wedemeyer: Discovering how horrible everyone involved is, not only to the animals but to other humans.
O’Connor: Everything that’s alleged about Doc Antle is disgusting. It’s mind-blowing that accusations of Antle preying on teenage girls to bring them into his cult is a secondary story line. I was intrigued to learn at the end of the documentary that his facilities were raided by authorities last December. Perhaps another documentary could be on the way.
Herman: Look, by all means expose the systematic practitioner of animal cruelty as a misogynist who also runs a de facto cult. Just don’t make me watch him for four more hours of interviews!
McConnell: I understand why the filmmakers did it, but the tacked-on conservationist message at the end felt disingenuous. It’s like if at the end of No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers had included a five-minute gun-control PSA. It’s a small-town story of backstabbers, dirty deeds, and revenge, so let it be that! Attempting to walk back the implications of using animal abuse as the backdrop for this story in the 11th hour didn’t land for me. Also, the inclusion of CCTV footage in which someone witnesses a death by suicide happening just out of frame feels more questionable and unnecessary the longer I think about it.
Concepcion: Security camera footage of a (accidental?) death by suicide.
4. Please rank the series’ biggest twists by their surprise factor.
Schuster: There are too many, so I’m just doing my top 5.
5. Joe’s country music career.
4. The fact that Carole started out as a big cat breeder.
3. The situation between Doc Antle and his “girlfriends.”
2. Travis’s accidental death by suicide.
1. CAROLE’S HUSBAND’S DISAPPEARANCE.
5. A lion drawn to the scent of Joe’s boot nearly mauls him. He has to fire his revolver more than once to scare the cats off. Later, suspected murderer Carole Baskin casually mentions what scent you could put on something to draw a big cat’s attention.
4. A woman has her arm mauled by a tiger. The arm is eventually amputated and she goes back to work, like, the next day. She’s the most reasonable person in the documentary.
3. Joe seemingly burning down his own video production studio.
2. The 30-second throwaway scene in which Joe reveals he hangs padlocks from his penis piercing.
1. The death by suicide.
7. The one guy didn’t lose his legs because of animals. It was a zip-lining accident.
6. The “Here Kitty Kitty” music video.
5. Joe probably burned down his own studio, killing several gators.
4. Joe calmly told customers that someone’s arm just got ripped off by a tiger.
3. Joe was married to two men at the same time (one was straight?).
2. Joe got 19 percent of the vote in Oklahoma’s Libertarian gubernatorial primary.
1. Carole probably fed her husband to a tiger.
[I’m actually outraged that the drug kingpin didn’t make my list.]
5. The realization that everyone who has touched a tiger has the same taste in interior decoration.
4. The general prevalence of polygamy among animal people.
3. The fact that the employee whose arm got bitten off by a tiger went back to work WITHIN A WEEK at the SAME PLACE.
2. Carole’s husband’s “disappearance.”
1. Doc Antle’s cult. (What happened to the woman who got out!? Need some follow-up there.)
8. When some Oklahomans seriously considered voting for Joe Exotic for governor.
7. Joe Exotic’s Prince Albert PADLOCK.
6. Saff getting half of her arm ripped off by a tiger only to come back mere days later and be cool with it.
5. Carole Baskin’s husband’s mysterious disappearance that may have ended with her feeding his body to her tigers.
4. Doc Antle’s zoo cult and missing animals.
3. The arson studio fire that killed the alligators.
2. Travis’s accidental death by suicide.
1. That G.W. Zoo manager John Reinke lost his legs in a zip-lining accident and not a big cat attack.
O’Connor: There are too many to remember and rank. My brain has turned to mush. But the most surprising twist for me was the implication that Carole Baskin killed her second husband and fed his body to her tigers. Even though something is clearly off about her, I never saw that coming.
352. That the exhibitionist big cat hoarder who tried to do a murder is also a polyamorist.
[Gap the size of a tiger’s maw.]
2. That there was only one on-camera mauling incident.
1. That a major battle in the ongoing Big Cat Wars hinges on the decidedly unsexy nitty-gritty of SEO. Big Cat Rescue, hire me as a digital consultant!!
5. Which narrator(s)—if any—did you find most reliable?
Shoemaker: The only reliable person in the whole thing was Don Lewis, because he’s dead so he couldn’t show up to lie.
O’Connor: John Reinke seems like a regular dude who’s just had a lot of tough luck in his life. At best, he’s trustworthy. At worst, he’s the least out-there of them all.
Ligons: The manager, John! He was so committed that he fed those animals by walking around on bare bone (!!) for many months. He did not deserve to be involved in a federal case! I believe everything he said.
Wedemeyer: I would have to say the workers, who are also the only likable humans in the entire series. NONE of the main characters are likable, so just know that before you dive into Tiger King.
Samman: Joshua would probably be an unbelievably tough hang in real life, but among this cast of characters, is shockingly normal. I trust him more than anyone else.
Herman: CAROLE BASKIN DID NOTHING WRONG. (Besides possibly killing her second husband and feeding his corpse to the tigers.) We simply stan a strong woman going toe-to-toe with the men in her profession, i.e., being incredibly protective of large animals who would rip you in half without a second thought. And even though Carole is vindictive, shady, and possibly hypocritical, at least she’s all those things in service of a worthy cause. Team Carole!
Schuster: I found Jeff Lowe to be mostly reliable only because his singular motivation—money—was always at the forefront of his actions. Everyone else is completely full of shit.
6. What is your favorite Joe Exotic song/music video?
Herman: The one he sang at his husband’s funeral that made it very clear the actual tracks aren’t his voice.
O’Connor: Come on, this is easy. Joe Exotic wrote a country song about his rival killing her husband and feeding him to tigers, and then directed a music video starring a look-alike of her. What else could it be but “Here Kitty Kitty”? It’s a banger.
Ligons: “Here Kitty Kitty” and it’s not even close.
McConnell: “Here Kitty Kitty.” Love a nice minor-key country murder ballad. It’s one of the few Joe Exotic joints that structurally, melodically works as a song, and the timing of when it drops within the series provides one of the biggest “holy shit” moments of the Tiger King experience.
Samman: I know “Here Kitty Kitty” is the popular choice, but “I Saw a Tiger” is objectively a banger.
Wedemeyer: “I Saw a Tiger.” I know everyone loves the Carole Baskin song, but there’s something soothing about “I Saw a Tiger,” which is probably due to the fact that it’s a song about loving tigers and not about a woman who may or may not have killed her husband and fed him to her tigers. But I’m not saying “Here Kitty Kitty” isn’t catchy, because it definitely is. Damn, these songs better be available on Spotify in a week.
Gallagher: This is the storytelling device that elevates Tiger King above every other documentary. Imagine hearing Robert Durst admit to killing people on The Jinx [HARD CUT TO] Robert Durst singing about killing people on top of a pickup truck. Or what about Michael Peterson revealing the owl theory on The Staircase [HARD CUT TO] Michael Peterson singing about owl attacks in front of a small pond. Or the first time we see the crappy sandwich in the Fyre Festival documentary [HARD CUT TO] Billy McFarland singing about sandwiches in a priest costume and a cowboy hat.
Anyway, it’s “Here Kitty Kitty.”
7. What is your biggest lasting takeaway from the series?
Herman: I no longer feel comfortable identifying as a cat person.
O’Connor: I had already known that there are fewer tigers in the wild than ever before, but I didn’t know there are more tigers in captivity than in the wild. Heartbreaking. As hilarious and as entertaining as Tiger King is, it’s even more shameful and profane. Species of tigers will go extinct before these batty people will. What a shame.
Wedemeyer: We been knew, but human beings suck.
Samman: God, am I glad I no longer live in Tampa.
Shoemaker: Every tiger sanctuary is a de facto sex cult.
Concepcion: Don’t go to roadside zoos.
Gallagher: I’d like to amend my previous statement. All art, including The Ringer, has to retire now. I don’t make the rules. The Tiger King does.
An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated the race in which Joe Exotic received 19 percent of the vote; it was Oklahoma’s Libertarian gubernatorial primary.