Follow TV Tropes

Following

Series / Tiger King

Go To

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/tigerking_0.jpg
"Animal people are nuts, man. They're all fuckin' crazy."

"He was like a mythical character living out in the middle of bumfuck Oklahoma who owned 1,200 tigers and lions and bears and shit."
Rick Kirkham describing Joe Exotic
Advertisement:

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is a True Crime series from Netflix, premiering on March 20, 2020. The story focuses on the intricate web of rivalries and manipulations within the American exotic animal collecting community, as seen through the lens of gun-toting gay polygamist country singer/zoo owner Joe Exotic (real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage, né Schreibvogel) and his feud with animal rights activist Carole Baskin.

The seven-part docuseries looks at the bizarre celebrity of Exotic, along with the entire industry of big cat breeding that involves a cast of colorful characters, including a former cocaine drug lord who may have been the inspiration for Scarface; Baskin, who is speculated to have murdered her husband after his mysterious disappearance; Bhagavan "Doc" Antle, another eccentric zoo owner whose work force resembles a sex cult; and how they're all connected to one another via their obsession for big cats.

Advertisement:

Things get even weirder as the series goes on.

The show comprises seven episodes, with a bonus retrospective episode added on April 12 after the show's surprise success.

Not to be confused with King Tigers, though both contain racists who may or may not be on meth.


Tiger King provides examples of:

  • Alas, Poor Villain: Most characters openly discuss Joe's many misdeeds and how he abused them, but towards the end when Joe has been fiercely thrown through a karma meat-grinder, some express a measure of sadness for just how broken and pathetic he ended up. In particular, Eric Cowie, Joe's head zookeeper who testified against him, spends a few minutes sadly reminiscing his days at the zoo after hearing about Joe's conviction.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Mixed with Ambiguously Bi. No one knows for sure if John Finlay and Travis were ever actually in a relationship with Joe because they are gay/bi, or if they're actually straight and Joe just took advantage of them by giving them meth and, in turn, making them dependent on him. Joe even says he has a proclivity for falling for straight guys. Most of the people who worked with them think the latter is the case with John as he's now married to a woman and as Rick says was sleeping with all the girls who worked at G.W. Zoo while he was there. Travis is another question as he says in the show that he'd only dated girls before he moved to Oklahoma but at the same time, he was only a teenager when he moved there and might have just dated girls as a cover and since he's dead now, he's not around to elaborate his side of the story. That said, they both did frequently cheat on Joe with women, and only with women; since one would expect their extramarital flings to consist partly of men if they were bi or exclusively of men if they were gay, this is pretty good evidence that they're both straight.
  • Advertisement:
  • Amoral Attorney: Joe records footage of himself meeting with his attorney about the rights to the reality series, which could implicate him in many crimes. His attorney pointedly asks where all the footage is, and when Joe says that it's all in a single room, the attorney lets a pregnant pause pass before answering, "You see what I'm saying?" The implication couldn't be more clear that his lawyer is telling him to illegally destroy the footage, and sure enough, it gets destroyed.
  • Animal Assassin:
    • Played With: Joe posits that Carole Baskin killed her husband and fed his corpse to her tigers. A more straight example is also floated, where Carole somehow persuaded the tigers to eat her husband alive.
    • Joe seems convinced that this is attempted on him at one point, where while filming a commercial, one of the cats becomes particularly interested in a smell on his boots and attacks him, with Joe barely managing to make it out of the cage alive. Joe is convinced someone, either Jeff or Carole, had cologne rubbed on his boots to get the cats to attack and Make It Look Like an Accident. Carole dismisses this theory when it's presented to her, saying that cologne would just cause the cats to drool on Joe, and that if you were trying to get the cats to kill him, they would have used sardine oil.
    • Earlier in the docuseries, Joe Exotic says he's going to mail venomous snakes to Carole Baskin in an effort to kill her. Carole herself says that she found snakes in her mailbox one day, though it's not clear if they were venomous.
  • Animal Lover: Joe certainly sees himself as one, despite later admitting his zoo was run-down and the animals might have suffered for it. And the first lines of the documentary are Rick Kirkham declaring that all of them are absolutely insane. Considering one of the more normal people interviewed is a drug kingpin who admits to getting into drugs to support his big cat obsession, Kirkham's not far off the mark for nearly everyone detailed in the documentary.
  • Animal Motifs: Tigers (and big cats in general). All of the menagerie owners unconsciously reflect or actively emulate their pantherinae pets in different ways.
  • Animal Wrongs Group: Joe would like to think that all "animal rights people" are little more than ignorant bullies. Saff points out in the final episode that although everyone claims to have the animals' best interests at heart, not one animal's life was improved by the whole saga.
  • An Arm and a Leg:
    • Animal handler Saff Saffery gets his arm badly mauled by a tiger, and the aftermath is shown (blurred) on the documentary. He opts to have it amputated, so he can return to work faster.
    • John Reinke, another employee at the park, is a double amputee. However, he lost his legs because of a zipline accident, not an animal attack. He similarly could have had them fixed if he'd gotten proper down time and physical therapy, but insisted on going right back to work and ultimately wore them down until they had to be amputated.
  • Arch-Enemy: Joe Exotic hates Carole Baskin, and the sentiment is mutual. Each of them devotes staggering amounts of time and money into attempts to sabotage the other's work.
  • Art-Shifted Sequel: The follow-up episode has noticeably different production values from the main series, with the participants being simply interviewed by Joel McHale over an iPhone. Justified since the COVID-19 Pandemic made regular filming impossible.
  • Artistic License – Law: Don Lewis (Carole Baskin's husband who went missing) mentioned in his will about his "death or disappearance", which seems to raise red flags with a few people, raising suspicion that Carole did something to him. The main lawyer shown in interviews says he's never seen any will worded that way before. Devin Stone of LegalEagle though comments that such a phrasing isn't that uncommon, and isn't as suspicious or ominous as the makers of the documentary make it out to be.
  • Asshole Victim: Say what you will about Joe, it is goddamn satisfying to see his empire crumble and him go to jail.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: In episode 8, Kirkham recounts an anecdote where Joe accepted an old horse from a woman who wanted it to live out its final days in a pasture, only to shoot it in the head the moment she was gone and feed the remains to the tigers. He called it one of the most pointlessly cruel things he ever witnessed. Even worse, this may be the very same horse whose genitals he used as a Gag Penis in one piece of hatemail he sent to Carole in an earlier episode.
  • Beat: A noticeable one occurs in episode 6, when it's revealed that James Garrestson is in fact working with the feds.
    Interviewer: Who is James Garretson in all this, and why is he working for the feds?
    [beat]
    John:...What? That's news for me.
  • Became Their Own Antithesis: The last episode reveals that Joe started out advocating for the big cats and taking a principled stance against breeding them, but he ends up breeding them himself. Or, more cynically, he was always a narcissist and simply realized he could get the same emotional high (what psychologists call "narcissistic supply") by getting media attention for his bizarre antics and/or wielding power over his long-suffering workers that he could from being recognized for doing something genuinely good.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: It's hard to swallow that a figure as ridiculous as the sparkly, mullet-having Joe Exotic could commit some of the actions he did.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: It's quite easy to despise Joe. Meanwhile, Carole Baskin had a Heel–Face Turn and stopped breeding and began advocating against cub-petting. It's shown that she created a how to video for how to tame a wild cat, her first instructions of which are immediately taking it from the mother. But even if we don't know what the heck really happened, the possibility that Baskin killed her husband dangles overhead throughout the whole story.
  • Black Widow: Don Lewis' first wife and their daughters clearly believe Carole to be one, as do her rivals in the big cat zookeeping world. Joe even directed a music video mocking her over this, with a Carole look-alike feeding her husband's corpse to a tiger.
  • Blatant Lies: Joe and Doc both claim that they never euthanize animals. Even for the very best zoos that's an impossible goal.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Carole Baskin argues in favor of breeding and selling endangered animals remaining illegal, since it fuels the sort of animal abuse seen in this series. Her opponents, however, point out that even legitimate and ethical zoos are left with no legal way to obtain endangered animals by this law, as well as that the most effective and intuitive way to help endangered animals is to breed them to the point where they are no longer endangered. note 
  • Bourgeois Bohemian: Carole is a well-spoken, rich, older Granola Girl, to contrast Joe's more Lower-Class Lout image. Carole and Howard celebrate Joe's arrest with wine and brie.
  • Broken Aesop: While the docuseries makes a good point by mentioning how John Oliver's coverage of Joe fed his ego and accidentally led to some of the horrors seen here, this point is coming from a docuseries that also gives Joe free exposure and is distributed globally through the most used streaming service on the planet.
  • The Cameo: Various media personalities make brief appearances throughout the series, such as news anchors (Chris Cuomo), late night comedy hosts (David Letterman, Jay Leno), and porn stars (Rachel Starr).
  • Catchphrase: "Hey all you cool cats and kittens!" for Carole.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: The story is dark and bizarre from the beginning, but it's around episode 5 where things start to go really downhill, as it depicts Travis's death which marks the beginning of the downfall of Joe and his zoo, as well as showing how Jeff takes over the zoo to the displeasure of everybody working there.
  • Clear My Name: Following the popularity of the Tiger King show, Carole Baskins has gone into detail on the misleading narrative presented in the footage.
  • Comically Small Bribe: The fact Joe Exotic tried to hire a hitman to kill Carole Baskin is offset by the fact that, on top of "hiring" a guy Joe only assumed was a hitman, Joe offered to pay him $5000 for the deed and then only gave him $3000. As pointed out by all of the other interviewed people, as far as they can assume, an actual professional hitman wouldn't have accepted a job for a sum that low. Sure enough, Allen just takes the money and skedaddles.
  • Con Man:
    • Joe certainly paints Jeff Lowe as this after all is said and done, and at least one other character accuses him of "stealing the zoo" out from under Joe. The truth is a bit more complicated: while Jeff is admittedly a pretty sleazy character with a criminal past and is not as wealthy as he makes himself out to be to get Joe to pass ownership over to him, he only directly took over the park after Joe started Stealing from the Till using Jeff's name, was already the subject of an FBI investigation, and stole most of the big cats during his last two days when he realized he was going to be fired.
    • Carole's former step-family claim that after Don was pronounced dead and his estate portioned out, all of the valuable assets went to Carole and they received the junk investments. What was supposed to be a fifty-fifty split was actually ninety-ten in Carole's favor. They also claim that he left a real will that cut Carole out entirely, but he left it in his secretary's office and Carole simply took possession and then destroyed it.
  • Cool Pet: The show is a deep dive into the strange world of people who have become obsessed with "exotic pets." From snakes to lemurs to tigers, some people just can't get enough of them, and tourists will pay big money to traipse around in their menageries. However, this is also deconstructed, as the documentary makes clear that these animals are likely bred in bad conditions and can be dangerous.
  • Colbert Bump: In-UniverseLast Week Tonight with John Oliver featured Joe Exotic on a segment of its episode about third party candidates during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which gave him free publicity. This is even a minor plot point in a later episode.
  • Copycat Mockery:
    • The time when Joe Exotic rebranded the GW Zoo as "Big Cat Rescue Entertainment", complete with a logo that looked suspiciously similar to Carole Baskin's "Big Cat Rescue." Baskin promptly sued him for trademark infringement.
    • In an even more direct example, Joe's music video "Here Kitty Kitty" features a Carole Baskin impersonator who kills her husband and feeds the corpse to her tigers.
  • Could Say It, But...: In hidden camera footage, Joe's lawyer doesn't directly encourage him to destroy Kirkham's footage and other incriminating evidence. He gets Joe to realize that it's all located in a single location, and then says, "You see what I'm saying?"
  • Crapsaccharine World: The Myrtle Beach Safari, Doc's wildlife preserve, is by far the most polished of the three menageries most prominently featured in the show, with open space and large enclosures that make it look way more like an actual certified zoo than the relatively grungy nature of Joe's or even Carole's zoos. But just as with Joe's zoo, it still promotes unrestricted breeding of big cats, and it is heavily implied that excess big cats that grow out of their cute, marketable cub stage are euthanized. And despite some of the shadiness in Joe's zoo, none of them come close to possibly having a full-blown sex cult.
  • Crapsack World: The world of eccentric American big cat owners is a dark, dark place.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Exaggerated by Carole Baskin, whose house seems to have at least three items in each room with either the image of a Big Cat on it or a tiger or leopard print pattern on it. She has about as many caged tigers as Joe himself does, despite being allergic to cats.
  • Cult of Personality: The title of the second episode which presents all three zoos as operating like this. Doc Antle is disturbingly successful at leashing young women to his sex cult with classic manipulation tactics. Joe's zoo is staffed by people he selects because they have no other options and so feel they can't turn on him. Even Carole, while the mildest of the three, shows shades of this, convincing her volunteers to work extensive hours for free by portraying herself as a moral champion for the helpless and inspiring her admirers to devote years of service in order to emulate her and win her attention.
  • Cuteness Proximity: Exploited Trope. Jeff Lowe uses tiger cubs as a seduction tool while out in Las Vegas, since hot girls can't stop fawning over them.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Both Carole and Joe have some rather grim backgrounds involving trauma. This is also true to the large majority of the crew of Joe's zoo, which were recruited from abject poverty and misery.
  • Day in the Limelight: Episode 3 is about Carole's life and the disappearance of her second husband. Joe only shows up a few times to discuss her but otherwise, the episode is not about him.
  • Depraved Homosexual: Possibly Joe, depending on who you ask. All three of Joe's husbands were young enough to be his sons, and were his employees. Some characters theorize that neither John nor Travis were gay, and that Joe took advantage of their respective drug addictions to manipulate them into relationships. Joe himself admits that he fell in love with straight guys, and tells a story about how Travis claimed to be straight when he first arrived in Oklahoma.
  • Despair Event Horizon: When Rick Kirkham saw that the studio that contained a year's work of filming for a reality show that was going to help his retirement had been destroyed by the fire, he fell to his knees and wept. Afterwards he immediately drove back home with nothing but his dog where he then suffered a nervous breakdown.
  • Did Not Think This Through:
    • Joe has a really bad habit of not checking the legality of things before doing them.
      • He blatantly rips off Big Cat Rescue's website and trademarks, and then compounds it by insisting on fighting instead of immediately backing down when they launch an open-and-shut lawsuit over it. His half-assed attempts to dodge the results by putting everything in other people's names just drags all of his family and friends down with him.
      • He used the zoo's money to pay for his political campaigns (signing Jeff's name to do it) and then has no idea why Jeff is yelling at him about embezzlement.
      • He also used campaign money for non-campaign things, which is illegal. Even if you're running as a publicity stunt, election laws are still pertinent as Josh points out.
      • He apparently didn't read the contract he signed with Kirkham. That the producer owned all of the footage (allegedly including multiple crimes and other potential blackmail material) didn't sink in until he'd been shooting for a full year and was already shopping the show around to networks.
      • He made frequent and explicit death threats against Carole Baskin on his public internet show.
      • His chosen hitman was someone he knew for a fact hated him, and he even paid $2000 less than he promised.
    • Kirkham invested a year of his life and most of his money into the reality show project... and left all of his stuff in one room without any footage backed up off-site or his equipment insured. There were backups in a safe... but it was still in the same room, and the fire was so hot it melted.
    • James Garretson tried to sell the Baskins dirt on Joe by texting them from his normal phone. It apparently didn't even occur to him that they might contact the authorities, which they immediately did. The whole final meltdown snowballed from there.
  • Disaster Dominoes: Losing the copyright infringement lawsuit against the Baskins is really what marks the beginning of the end for Joe, everything after that point just snowballs. Joe didn't have the settlement amount of $1 million in liquid assets (or at all really) and resorts to increasingly desperate measures to find the money. This includes signing away the assets he does have to others when the Baskins try to negotiate the logistics. He just makes everything more complicated and takes down his friends and family with him (his niece swears the stress of this contributed to his mother's death) by doing this. Coming up with the money also draws him to taking on Jeff as a business partner. Jeff is both incredibly shady and not nearly as rich as he seems, putting Joe further into financial distress. Jeff also ends up ratting him out to the FBI. Even outside the money issue, the lawsuit takes the feud from mean-spirited but fairly harmless to outright hateful and vengeful on Joe's end. His hatred of her blinds his every move even though everyone tells him that he just needs to leave it well alone because she has the money to keep fighting this out in court and he doesn't. He just can't help himself from making violent videos about her on public forums and doing other inflammatory things like hiring helicopters to circle her property. It all culminates in him hiring a low dollar hitman to kill her which put him in federal prison for a twenty-two year sentence.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: From Joe's perspective, Carole Baskin is his definitive Arch-Enemy, but his fame and ego blind him to the true threats to his whole operation, which he only realizes far too late. Namely, Jeff Lowe and James Garretson.
  • Disposing of a Body:
    • It is alternately theorized that Carole Baskin's husband Don was buried under a septic tank, ground up and fed to tigers, fed to tigers whole while still alive, or dumped out of a low-flying plane in the gulf of Mexico.
    • Joe secretly killed and disposed of several tigers by burying them on his compound. The police dig them up to charge him with animal cruelty.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Doc was accused of "gassing and cremating" his tigers once they got too old to be petted and thus be commercially lucrative.
  • Domestic Abuse:
    • Carole's first husband reportedly abused her.
    • It's unknown if Joe was physically abusive to Travis, but he was manipulative and controlling of his young husband, forbidding Travis from leaving the animal park and keeping him drug-addled.
    • Jeff Lowe was arrested for strangling his first wife.
  • Downer Ending: In the end, everybody involved makes no real progress in their goals or is worse off than when they started.
  • Driven to Suicide: Travis shoots himself in the head after tiring of Joe's control. There is some evidence that suggests it was an accidental death, and the cause of death was officially determined to be accidental, but he was definitely suicidal at the time.
  • Drugs Are Bad: A downplayed but present theme throughout the documentary. Both of Joe's husbands suffer physically and emotionally from drug addiction.
  • Enemy Mine: Following his incarceration, Joe begins working with PETA to expose trafficking and animal abuse within the US, including several of his former business partners. One of them, Jeff Lowe, is gobsmacked that two groups who "hated each other's guts six months ago" would unite against him.
  • Exotic Extended Marriage: Even the clergyperson officiating Joe's wedding hangs a Lampshade on the fact that it's not every day one sees a marriage with three husbands.
  • Fallen Hero: It's believed that Joe did start the G.W. Zoo for good intentions such as stopping breeding laws, and getting the animals back in their natural habitat. However, as the money grew and his Fatal Flaw took control, his care for the animals gradually diminished until he's the manipulative, conniving, prideful man that's shown in the documentary.
  • False Flag Operation: It's all but overtly stated that Joe was responsible for the fire in his compound as part of a Fiery Coverup, which he blames on Carole. He even records a video shaming her for it.
  • Fan Disservice: Doc Antle's many attractive wives who work at his zoo dress provocatively, but the knowledge that many of them are hopelessly embroiled in Antle's full-blown sex cult, are forced by him to dress that way and have to do back-breaking labor with no holiday off or any pay severely lessens any sex appeal that can be had.
  • Fatal Flaw:
    • Joe’s are his self-centered nature and inability to let things go. He believes the world is out to get him personally which in turn only fuels his hatred of Carole. He can’t stop antagonizing her, even though everyone tells him he needs to stop.
    • Carole and Howard’s is their stubbornness. They spent more on their lawyers to get the money they won in the lawsuit than $1 million judgement itself. This just adds fuel to the fire of Joe’s hatred.
    • Rick’s was his Greed. He knew that he’d struck gold on the reality show and spent $1 million of his own money on it. He knew how bad Joe was but continued to film the show. He lost everything when the studio went up on flames because he didn’t have it insured or anything backed up.
  • Fiery Coverup: The fire that destroyed Joe's studio destroyed extensive video footage of the day-to-day operations at the GW Zoo. While the cause of the fire is left undetermined, it's strongly hinted (all but stated outright) that it could have been arson to cover up evidence of illegal activity.
  • Flyover Country: The GW Zoo is located in "bumfuck Oklahoma," where Joe has become a local celebrity. James Garretson notes that Oklahoma is a poor, small state and that most of their clientele is from the more populous, richer state of Texas (more specifically the Dallas-Ft. Worth metro area) so he suggests moving the zoo to a casino near the state line.
  • Freakier Than Fiction: The show's advertising and Talking Heads narration in the opening of the first episode (like the current page quote) make clear that the character of Joe Exotic and the events surrounding his zoo and his rise and eventual fall are so nuts that it's hard to believe actually happened. It's even stated by Rick Kirkham as the reason he tried to make a reality show starring Joe.
  • Freudian Excuse: Joe's youth wasn't that great. When he realized he was gay, his father effectively disowned him and Joe later would attempt suicide. While he survived, years later his brother and sister-in-law would end up in a car accident which left the former on life support, which Joe then later had to end. Oddly enough, he seems pretty close with his parents in the modern day, although his cousin thinks that was just to drain their bank account.
  • From Bad to Worse: The feud between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin essentially devolves from mean-spirited but ultimately harmless potshots from the former at the latter to an attempt at hiring a hitman to kill Carole. This escalates their feud into a federal case where Joe is found guilty and sentenced to 22 years in prison.
  • The "Fun" in "Funeral": At Travis' funeral, Joe cracks jokes and breaks into one of his songs, claiming it was what he would have wanted. Travis' mother, on the other hand, felt it was in extremely bad taste, and that it made the event about Joe and him putting on a show.
  • Gilded Cage: Joe kept his husbands John and Travis in the park close to 24/7, rarely allowing them off the property. To keep them happy, he showered them with drugs and expensive presents like guns, 4 wheelers, and trucks.
  • A God Am I: Doc's real name is Bhagavan, a Sanskrit term meaning "fortunate one" or "blessed one" and traditionally used as an epithet for various Hindu gods.
  • Going Commando: Despite selling tiger-printed underwear, Joe doesn't wear any himself. We later see when he begins to undress that he wasn't lying.
  • Gory Discretion Shot:
    • Travis' death is understandably not shown, but we are shown security cam footage of how Joshua, who was in the room at the time, reacted to it.
    • Saff's injured arm is blurred.
  • Granola Girl: Carole comes across as an aged example. Doc and his harem apparently are vegetarians, as well as assuming names related to Hinduism.
  • Handicapped Badass: Joe's crew includes Saff and Reinke, both tiger wranglers and amputees (former has an arm missing, latter both of his lower legs). Saff's case is particularly remarkable since he lost his arm to a tiger and continued to work with them (Reinke lost his legs in a unrelated accident). Joe himself needs a brace for his leg and he's a pretty good shot with a rifle.
  • Happily Married: Despite the particular accusations against Carole's past greying this somewhat, Carole and her third husband Howard are shown to be genuinely loving and affectionate to each other whenever they're onscreen together.
  • Hate Sink: While fans of the show are keen to debate the morality of Joe and Carole, most will agree that Jeff Lowe and Doc Antle are scum.
    • Jeff Lowe is a sleazy conman who screws over every party that he enters into a business relationship with, carries baby tigers into hotel rooms in a rolling suitcase to use as seduction props, and tells his wife that she will need to get into the gym once she's had his child.
    • Doc Antle is even worse. He pays his staff a pittance, promotes them if they sleep with him, and pressures them into changing their names, getting breast implants and wearing exploitative outfits. He appears more like a cult leader than a zoo owner, and Antle is sensitive to that description. Even worse, several parties accuse him of systematically executing tiger cubs when they become too grown for Antle's guests to cuddle.
  • Heel Realization: Joe in the final episode, as well as many former GW Zoo employees. Joe talks about a pair of chimpanzees he owned that sat in cages next to each other for ten years, and when they went to a rescue and were free they hugged each other. He ponders if he deprived them of that contact. By then it's too little, too late for everything and everyone.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Several of the male animal park owners and businessmen treat women poorly. Joe's increasingly vicious videos make fun of Carole Baskin in misogynist ways. Bhagavan "Doc" Antle is the head of a sex cult of female employees. One commentator quotes him as saying, "Men are pigs, and women are sheep." Jeff Lowe used baby tigers to lure beautiful women to his hotel room so that he could have sex with them, and sometimes with his wife Lauren. Later in the series, Jeff remarks that Lauren will need to go back to the gym after giving birth, and lecherously shows off photos of their attractive nanny. James Garretson was the proprietor of several strip clubs.
  • Historical Villain Downgrade: The filmmakers have admitted to leaving out footage of Joe making outright racist statements, such as pondering why he can't use the N-word, so viewers would find it easier to empathize with him. Rick Kirkham has said in interviews that he saw far worse than that during his year there, and says that Joe was casually cruel to his employees and the animals all the time. He specifically mentions Joe occasionally shooting animals just for fun.
  • Horse of a Different Color: Doc Antle is shown to frequently take one of his elephants for a ride around town and out for a swim in the river. This is apparently such a common sight that the locals don't even look twice.
  • Hourglass Plot: Joe starts out advocating against animal breeding and Carole starts out advocating for it, but Carole ends up fiercely against breeding and Joe ends up breeding animals himself.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Zigzagged. All the tigers are woefully mistreated and used as little more than props by our main leads. Many are implied to be euthanized or shot when no longer able to generate money, they receive terrible vet care, are underfed, and languish in cages too small for them. On the other hand, Joe's employees are also mistreated, with one having an arm torn off in a mauling, and weekly they go through expired loads of Walmart meats meant for the tigers to eat themselves because they only make $150 a week (which is actually more than Doc or Carol's parks pay), so in the end, the tigers and the exploited employees are the victims in all this.
  • Hypocrite:
    • Joe did a drug awareness program in the early 2000s for kids, despite the fact that he himself used drugs (pot and meth in particular) to make his "husbands" dependent on him.
    • Joe also frequently criticizes Carole for allegedly killing her first husband, but later on, he himself tries to get her killed.
    • Carole is introduced saying that "no tiger belongs in a cage," but we are shown that that cages are exactly where her tigers are kept. The reason for this (which the show does not cover) is that the big cats of animal sanctuaries cannot survive living in the wild, so a large cage is necessary for them to live a humane life. The smallest cage of Carole Baskin's animal sanctuary is larger than her house.
    • Carole accuses Joe and Doc of treating their employees like labor camp prisoners even though her own “volunteers” work just as long and aren’t even paid. She then goes on to brag that she has so many people working for her that she doesn’t know most of her volunteers' names, even if they’ve been with the park for years.
    • Over the phone from prison, Joe mocks Jeff Lowe for his limp. Joe is frequently seen limping with a crutch in many scenes, including in his political campaign videos.
    • One of Joe's stunts was trying to make a big deal over Big Cat Rescue killing rabbits to feed the cats, as if the meat he was feeding his cats didn't come from dead animals.
  • I Ate WHAT?!: An employee outright confirms that the meat used at Joe's on-site pizzeria came from the same trucks of expired meat they fed to the animals. The employees don't see it as a big deal since they were already eating the meat themselves.
  • I Have Many Names: Over the course of the series, Joe goes by Joe Schriebvogel, Joe Exotic, Joe Maldonado, Joe Maldonado-Passage and "The Tiger King."
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Travis appears to accidentally shoot himself in the head while playing around with one of his guns, but given how mentally low he appeared to be before then (to the point of saying he felt like he was in a prison), the possibility that he may killed himself is just as viable.
  • In Name Only: Joe's campaign manager doesn't think Joe is a Libertarian, or even understands what a Libertarian is. He ran under that party purely because the manager realized Joe had no actual political opinions (which in hindsight is rather bizarre, as Joe is both gay and a gun nut) and filled in his own.
  • The Informant: It's revealed in episode 6 that James Garretson had actually signed up to be an F.B.I. informant to spy on Joe and Jeff due to the F.B.I. catching wind onto Joe's various crimes and threatened James for taking part in them, unless he complied with becoming a mole.
  • Internet Jerk: On his internet TV show, Joe Exotic made a lot of violent threats and posturing against Carole Baskin. This came back to bite him when said statements were used as evidence in his murder-for-hire trial.
  • Irony:
    • Joe, a man infamous for keeping tigers locked up in cages, is sent to prison for paying a hitman to murder Carole. Joe even lampshades this in the finale.
    • Joe frequently claims to believe in Karma and that his enemies will all fall prey to her sick sense of humor. In the end, he is the one who loses everything.
    • Joshua, Joe's very libertarian former campaign manager, is forced to take part in Joe's trial that would later sentence him to federal prison. Joshua doesn't want to side with the government because of his dislike for them, but at the same time, he doesn't want to defend Joe, whom he views as dangerously insane, and doing so would mean he would've gotten jail time.
    • John Reineke, one of Joe's animal handlers, is a double amputee with two prosthetic legs. How do you suppose a man who spends all his time around dangerous tigers lost two limbs? Turns out, it was a zipline accident.
    • Despite the fact that Joe's a paranoiac who fears that animal rights groups are going to take his zoo and animals away from him, he ends up handing over the G.W. Zoo and all of his tigers to Jeff Lowe, all without thinking that Jeff might con him out of his possessions.
    • Joe Exotic spends his life aspiring to achieve fame and notoriety. He finally becomes a household name around the world due to the True Crime series about how he was sent to prison, where he can enjoy none of the benefits of his fame.
    • In the final episode, Rick Kirkham claims that Joe Exotic, who made his name as the eponymous Tiger King, actually has a severe phobia of big cats and would only appear on camera with them if they were sedated.
  • It's All About Me: Joe. It helps his business but ends up being his Fatal Flaw because he can't stop grandstanding or playing the victim. Notably, when Saff gets his arm torn off by one of the cats, Joe's immediate reaction is to state that the incident will ruin him financially.
    Jeff Lowe: Joe would say, "People don't come here to see the tigers. They come to see me".
  • Karma Houdini: The show ends with Joe in prison for animal cruelty and other crimes, while many other characters who allegedly did the exact same things are still walking free. However, it's strongly implied that there are ongoing criminal investigations into their actions, so time may tell.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: Joe gets his comeuppance by the end, but the number of times he gets away with truly awful behavior is nothing short of astonishing.
  • Kick the Dog: Each of the many prominent characters is given at least one moment fairly early into their introduction to establish the ugly side of their character. Joe is shown being mean to his employees. Carole is suspected of being a murderer and accused of being a gold-digger. Doc Antle's sex-cult shenanigans are revealed in detail. Jeff Lowe's swinging lifestyle is examined.
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: Carole presents herself as one with her rescue operation, referring to her fans as "cool cats and kittens" and is seen in a childhood photo with a housecat. Saff, the employee who lost an arm, is the only one seen petting a normal, domestic housecat. Erik, the head zookeeper, is on the verge of Tender Tears when he described Joe killing some of the cats.
  • Lack of Empathy: Many of Joe's former employees believe he has lost any trace of real empathy for his animals or friends after being wrapped up in his own ego. This extends to his deceased husband Travis, whom he melodramatically mourned for a whopping two months before finding a new husband and getting over it completely. James jokes that he must have been keeping onions in his pockets to induce the crying.
  • Large Ham: There is nothing, and we mean absolutely nothing, even remotely understated about Joe Exotic's persona.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: While Rick had a nervous breakdown after the studio got burned to the ground, he's grown to accept what happened with time. He now sees it as his comeuppance for getting in way too deep into a bad situation with horrible people when he knew how bad it was the whole time.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: For only a seven part docu-series, there sure are a ton of names to remember, as several new important interviewees are flung at us per episode.
  • Manly Gay: Joe Exotic himself. He plays up the image of the gay, gun-toting redneck. He is still very flamboyant, wearing glittery clothing and having lots of piercings, but is not effeminate at all.
  • Meet Cute: Don Lewis and Carole Baskin are described to have met after she ran off from her abusive first husband and picked up by Don as he was driving around town in his car, getting her inside by giving her a pistol to point at him as they talked. Since this is a documentary and not a wacky romantic comedy, it was just a precursor to their later Awful Wedded Life.
  • Menagerie of Misery: This series takes an in-depth look at various big cat facilities around the United States. How they treat their animals vary, but Joe Exotic's Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park is portrayed as the worst. The facility in general is run-down, animals are kept in cramped cages that are far smaller than anything they would need in real life, the zoo is always in a precarious financial position and so the animals and employees are fed expired meat from supermarkets, and its proprietor gradually becomes more obsessed with becoming famous than actually caring for them.
  • Mock Millionaire: Joe put a lot of faith in Jeff Lowe as an "angel investor," being easily impressed by his mansion and Ferrari. While he appears to have some money, the mansion was rented and he was behind on his car payments.
  • The Mole: Multiple characters work with the feds to bring Joe down, including his campaign manager Joshua Dial and James Garretson.
  • Mood Whiplash: The flamboyant personalities involved make up for a strange combination with the (often very dark) events at hand.
    Carole: It was kinda funny when it started but then it got really dark.
  • Musical Gag: Type 2. In episode 6, "Eye Of The Tiger" is played briefly while James Garretson rides a jetski.
  • The Narcissist: The animal park owners are dripping with narcissism, especially Joe and Doc. Many are entitled, self-centered, hungry for the limelight, lecherous, indifferent to the rules of morality and the law, and devoid of empathy for humans or animals.
  • Never Found the Body: Carole's second husband, Don. This leads to much speculation as to exactly what happened to him, with many claiming that Carole killed him.
  • Never My Fault: Joe shows signs of narcissistic personality disorder, and blames everyone around him (or Carole Baskin) for anything and everything that goes wrong. Special mention to when Joe tries to dodge Carole Baskin's lawsuit by getting his mother to sign papers that transfer ownership of the zoo to her, then whining about how his poor mother is being sued and harassed to an early grave by Carole Baskin. Joe's niece straight up says Joe bled his mother dry.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: Carole comes across as one, what with her tye-dye shirts and flower crowns.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: It seems that everyone is just trying to screw each other over, and almost everyone involved in the GW Zoo has at least one criminal conviction.
  • Not Afraid to Die: Joe declares that he's not afraid of dying.
  • Not So Different: Joe and Doc assert that what Carole does isn't really any different than them, and that her crusade against private zoos is only to drive out competition. She asserts that her operation is more humane in that she doesn't actively breed the cats note  (anymore, she and her late husband used to), and doesn't let visitors pet the cubs, a practice she maintains is abusive. Kirkham, a more neutral party, states that in his opinion, he doesn't see a meaningful difference between the two.
  • Not That Kind of Doctor: Mrs. Tabraue points out that "Doc" Antle is actually a "doctor" of "mystical science." This may have been a joke; on his websites he claims he has a "doctoral degree in Chinese medicine" he earned when he lived there. Although, anyone familiar with "Chinese medicine" will know that it's about as scientific as astrology and might as well be a Phony Degree.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: James Garretson exits the documentary riding into the sunset... on a jet ski, set to the song "Eye of the Tiger".
  • Only Sane Man:
    • It says a lot about the various big cat owners depicted that by far the most normal one is a Cuban former drug trafficker who was part of the inspiration for the character of Tony Montana in Scarface (1983).
    • Rick Kirkham opens the series as a voice of reason who can't believe the story he's witnessed.
    • Joshua Dial is presented as a normal person who reacts to the bizarre antics of Joe Exotic and the self-destructive behavior of Travis, though it does brush up against his aggressively libertarian views. The series plays his paranoia over the "listening device" as a serious concern and never touches on his arrest for attacking someone with a samurai sword in 2017.
    • Out of the GW staff, Johns, Erik, and Saff come off as this. They're portrayed as simple, hard working, blue collar folks with a sense of loyalty to Joe for being their employer.
  • ...Or So I Heard: Carole Baskin dismisses Joe's accusation that she got a tiger to attack him by putting spices on his boots... and mentions that if someone really wanted to get a big cat to kill and eat a man, they would put sardine oil on his clothes.
  • Other Stock Phrases: "Here, kitty kitty" - Joe has a music video named after this phrase, which depicts Carole encouraging a tiger to eat her husband.
  • Panthera Awesome: Deconstructed, as the series shows how abusive the exotic animal industry is to people and animals.
  • The Paranoiac: Joe, who becomes far more paranoid about his business and his tigers being taken away from him the more the series progresses. Even his own crew keep referring to him as "paranoid."
  • Parrot Pet Position: Tim Stark, the private zoo owner, is always seen with a small capuchin monkey on his shoulder.
  • Phony Degree: Bhagavan "Doc" Antle is Not That Kind of Doctor. He claims to have a doctorate in Chinese medicine, which, even if true, would be of questionable legitimacy.
  • Pet the Dog:
  • Phrase Catcher: "That bitch Carole Baskin."
  • Polyamory: Both Doc Antle and Joe Exotic are practicing polygamists. Joe even calls the former his "mentor" when he had two husbands and Antle had three wives. Jeff Lowe is a marginal example, since he's married to a single woman (who used to be his mistress) but has an open relationship in which he can sleep with any number of other women.
  • Pyrrhic Victory:
    • Carole Baskin's enormous fortune ends up ultimately defeating Joe and playing a role in his conviction. But by that time, the tigers and other animals had been exploited for decades in terrible conditions, the zoo is scattered, the employees' lives wrecked, all the other higher-ups know the Feds aren't done with them, and not a damn thing has been done to move the Big Cats Safety Act forward. (Which Carole in particular had advocated for.)
    • More prosaically, the Baskins admit that between the copyright lawsuit and their attempts to collect on the judgement they spent more in legal fees than the judgement was for out of sheer stubborn refusal to let Joe wriggle out of it.
  • Psychological Projection: Jeff Lowe describes his first meeting with Joe Exotic as the latter sizing up "his next victim". While Joe did value his association with Jeff simply for what he assumed Jeff was worth financially, given Jeff's own status as a very skilled Con Man who later took over the zoo, this was probably going through his own mind at the time as well.
  • Questionable Consent:
    • Joe is accused of using meth addiction to coerce his husbands into a relationship with him, despite some of them possibly not even being gay.
    • "Doc" Antle allegedly grooms his girlfriends with cult-like tactics such as promising them higher positions on the staff in return for sexual favors.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The GW Zoo crew is described as a bunch of misfits lead by the king of misfits. The portrayal ranges from positive, with them having a family vibe & a camaraderie, to darker, showing that Joe collected several desperate people together to perform dangerous work they weren't trained or qualified for at starvation wages, keeping them together by instilling this trope in their heads.
  • Rape as Backstory: According to Carole, at one point in her past, she was raped at knifepoint.
  • Rated M for Manly: Jeff Lowe seems to wear nothing but Affliction shirts, leather jackets, and baseball caps over head bandannas. He drives a flashy Ferrari and makes a big deal out of using tigers to attract babes with his swinger of a young wife.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: John proudly shows off his pink camo gun. Joe often wears a bright pink shirt.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: If these events weren't captured on film, you'd probably have a hard time convincing people that most of the things depicted in this series actually happened.
  • Really Gets Around: Joe has three different husbands through the course of the series. Carole's late husband was an incorrigible womanizer. Doc has multiple girlfriends (and possibly cult devotees). Jeff and his wife used baby tigers to draw attractive women to their hotel rooms in the past, and it is implied Jeff to wants to sleep with his nanny.
  • Reckless Gun Usage:
    • Travis would habitually point guns at people as a prank, sometimes waking people up at gunpoint as a joke. Joshua, who worked in a gun department, knows full well how dangerous this was and would frequently tell him to stop, but he persisted. It culminated when Travis pointed his new Luger at Joshua and claimed that, with the clip out, it could not fire. He demonstrated by putting the barrel to his own head and pulling the trigger. This pistol had a round in the chamber and did indeed fire, killing him in front of Joshua.
    • During "Playing With Fire," Joe is being filmed walking towards the camera with a revolver. As he nears it, he actually places his finger on the trigger while pointing it at the cameraman. If that wasn't enough, shortly afterwards, he fires it into the air, revealing it was indeed loaded.
    • Joe is seen firing his pistol in the general vicinity of several people at his zoo, including the mother of one of his husbands.
  • Replacement Goldfish: While many theorise that Joe played it up, he was clearly left distraught by Travis's tragic death. However, he seems to recover ridiculously quickly and marries a new young guy, Dillon, who acts very much like Travis. He does seem to treat Dillon with more genuine affection, however.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: Joe was so blatant about hiding the finances (and his many financial crimes) that Jeff went to the bank and went through the records himself.
  • Riddle for the Ages:
    • What really happened to Don Lewis, Carole Baskin's mysteriously missing ex-husband? Did he make a break for Costa Rica and never return to the United States? Did the shady people who he worked with kill him and cover their tracks by dropping his body in the ocean? Did Baskin really kill him and feed his remains to her tigers? Nobody can say for sure.
    • Who really did burn down Joe and Kirkham's equipment room? Joe believes it to be either Carole or Kirkham, but Kirkham and a few others believe that Joe had someone burn it down for him while he was away in Chicago and blame Carole for it. It doesn't help that Joe's own lawyer advised Joe to do this to get out of trouble, and Joe announces that he's going to find someone who needs $10,000 immediately after the meeting. Even still, no one is ever charged.
  • Sanity Slippage: Joe was never stable, mentally. But following Travis' death several characters note he went completely off the deep end.
  • Serial Escalation: The documentary at first simply details Joe Exotic and his tiger-keeping business, but each episode gets more bizarre and sordid, especially in regards to Carole Baskin and the accusations both from and against her.
  • Sexual Extortion: Bhagavan "Doc" Antle is stated to have kept his female employees from actually receiving a salary and job benefits unless they had sex with him.
  • Singing Voice Dissonance: Subverted. Joe Exotic would seem to be a case of this, as his normal voice sounds somewhat high-pitched and seedy, whereas his singing voice sounds like a completely different person. Turns out however that it actually IS a different person, despite his claims to the contrary. At the funeral and when he's singing along to it on his truck radio you can hear his actual singing voice, and it's what you'd expect.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: A decidedly dark example between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskins. Their intense loathing for each other is initially played comedically, but it quickly takes a sinister turn as we steadily see how one irrational grudge can affect and ruin countless lives.
  • Slobs vs. Snobs: Part of the central conflict between Joe and Carole. Carole's a millionaire with a cleaner image and organization, while Joe's a filthy redneck who forces his employees to live in trashy trailers and eat expired food also meant for his tigers.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: The series starts as a general survey of the exotic animal world, then cuts it down to accusations against Joe, Carole and Doc in the second episode. By the fourth episode the drama around Joe and his zoo has completely taken over.
  • Stunned Silence: How Joshua reacts to Travis shooting his brains out in front of him. It lasts for about 40 seconds, and everything stops - at times it's hard to tell the footage isn't frozen in place.
  • Stupid Crooks:
    • Let's just say that Joe is not a sharp tool at all, let alone the sharpest in the shed. His two greatest and stupidest flaws are his desire to be in the spotlight at all times and his unrelenting hatred of Carole Baskin, which leads to him threatening to kill her on camera repeatedly in ways that provide Too Much Information, has him try to get a hitman — at a price so absurdly low it became a meme in itself — to get rid of her, gets many more of his unrelated misdeeds recorded on video (which leads to the major implication that he set his reality show footage on fire), wastes money in ways that he didn't even knew were fraud until he got yelled at by Jeff in his campaign to get elected as President and Governor, and performs copyright theft merely to try to mock Baskin.
    • James Garretson tried to pull a "Deep Throat" and sell the Baskins dirt on Joe by sending them "anonymous" texts... from his regular cell phone, a number that the Baskins knew well. Meaning that they first ignored him and when he tried to insist they immediately handed the texts to the authorities.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Carole Baskin of course dismisses any rumors that she murdered her ex husband and fed him to a tiger. However, in a later episode, she casually discusses exactly what someone would do if someone had wanted to get a tiger to attack a man (put sardine oil on his clothes).
  • Talking Heads: Used often, as fitting for a True Crime series.
  • Tattooed Crook: Someone states that Joe assumed that Allen's teardrop tattoo (and criminal history) meant that he had already killed someone, which was why he came to him with the murder-for-hire offer.
  • True Crime: The documentary covers real events, some of which happened only months before its March 2020 release date.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The great majority of characters have plenty of reason to be liberal with the truth to cover their own tracks and/or slander some rival, so more or less anything said by anyone involved with the private big cat business has to be taken with a grain of salt. One big example is that all of the more lurid details about Antle's zoo (beyond him having multiple girlfriends, which he freely admits too) come from a single former employee.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: The filmmakers just assume that the audience is already aware of and sympathetic to the conservationist side of the argument, and so never actually make that case. Nobody ever actually says in the documentary why breeding tigers or acclimating them to people is worse than doing it to any other animal (beyond a quick reference to the safety issues). They also never bother to explain why the response to there being more tigers in captivity than the wild should be to decrease the domesticated population, which a few of the private zookeepers openly mock but they never show Carole or anyone else responding to.For Those wondering 
  • Villain of Another Story: The documentary focuses primarily on Joe Exotic and his associates, but we get glimpses of other very shady characters who simply happen to not be the focus of this particular exposé. "Doc" Antle (with his possible sex cult harem of young women) and Tim Stark (who runs a private wildlife zoo not unlike Joe's) are prominent examples.
  • Villain Protagonist: Joe Exotic could be considered as this, given he is present in all the promotional material for the show, and the show itself is fundamentally about the conflict between him and Carole Baskin and the downfall of his business.
  • Weirdness Censor: In Episode 3, there's a moment where Carole is watching a video of Joe threatening to kill her, complete with him opening fire on a mannequin dressed up to look like her. Carole then stops the video just to point out the logo in the background that is a rip-off of hers. It also ends up foreshadowing Joe's attempt at having her murdered.
  • Wham Line: Rick drops a gigantic one within the last 3 minutes of the aftershow episode, where he states that Joe suffered from an extreme phobia of big cats. While the veracity of this is not conclusive (As there was clearly no love lost between the two after the fire), if one does choose to believe it, then this revelation casts a gigantic pall over his already morally questionable actions - it shows that for all of his supposed love for his job and the cats, it really was all about the money.
    Rick Kirkham: You know, the one thing that wasn't pointed out in the docuseries that's really important to know, too, Joe was terrified of big cats. He was scared to death of lions and tigers. And in the shots that you see in there, where he's in with the two tigers, the white one and the other one, the white one is blind and the other one was is on tranquilizers. It's idiotic to think about how he became famous as "The Tiger King" when he's so terrified of big cats.
  • What Does She See in Him?: Joe met Dillon during a rebound. Although the relationship allowed Joe to bounce back somewhat, by that point his already-feeble Mask of Sanity was falling apart alongside the rest of his life. It seems hard to accept that anyone, let alone someone who just met Joe in that state, would not only stick with him, but marry him and stay loyal to him after his arrest. And yet this is exactly what Dillon does.
  • Windmill Crusader:
    • Joe can't shut up about Carole Baskin, despite everyone around him pleading with him to stop antagonizing her and telling him it will only end badly. He advertises himself with the same name as Carole Baskin's company, cribs off her name recognition, and is absolutely shocked when the lawsuit she brings against him is not only legitimate but cutthroat thanks to her money.
    • To a lesser extent, Carole herself, who spends a massive amount in legal fees trying to collect money from Joe that he obviously doesn’t have, rather than using that money to actually help tigers. Of course, she and her husband both openly admit that their actual goal is to force him to end his breeding and petting operations (which they can't sue over because both are legal).
  • World of Ham: Every single person in this documentary's world, no exceptions, has an over-the-top flamboyant personality. Lampshaded by Carole Baskin herself, when she observes that if she wants to make an impression in an important meeting, ordinary street clothes just don't stand out like cat-print fabric does.


Top

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

/

Media sources:

/

Report