Graveyard Shift

Netflix's 'Tiger King' Is The Greatest Story About Petty Feuds, Hitmen, And Wild Animals Ever Told

The Netflix docu-series Tiger King kind of has it all. Its subtitle is "Murder, Mayhem and Madness," but it also features polygamy, cults, and drug running, as well as feuds that would put the Hatfields and McCoys to shame, and a cast of eccentric characters straight out of an Elmore Leonard novel. It centers on the eponymous "Tiger King," Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as "Joe Exotic," a mulleted, openly gay country singer and stage magician who owned the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park until (spoilers) he went to prison for his part in a murder-for-hire plot. Which means, if nothing else, any remaining "Joe Exotic for President" merchandise is a collector's item.

If that sounds like a lot to take in, it still only scratches the surface. Across seven episodes, Tiger King dives deep into the life of Joe Exotic and a rogues' gallery of oddball figures from the world of private big cat ownership. There's the guy who may have been the basis for Scarface, and the guy who supposedly has a cultlike harem of "wives," and the crusader who's trying to end private ownership of big cats using millions she inherited from her husband... who mysteriously disappeared. If this whole thing ended in a bloodier denouement, it would be an Elmore Leonard novel. To put it mildly, the Tiger King facts are stranger than fiction.

The docu-series was produced by conservationist, entrepreneur, and filmmaker Eric Goode - who claims he stumbled upon Exotic while investigating "a notorious reptile dealer" in South Florida - and documentarian Rebecca Chaiklin. Goode founded the Turtle Conservancy as well as a variety of nightclubs and hotels in New York; he also made music videos for the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Lords of Acid, and Terrorvision. Together, he and Chaiklin decided to film a documentary about Joe Exotic, only to get a story way more bizarre than they could ever have bargained for.