It’s not the fight for animal rights. Not even the regal beauty of the tigers. It’s surrealism. It’s the madness surrounding each of the characters featured in the docuseries that has millions of people the world over hooked on watching “Tiger King”, breaking every previously held  Netflix record and hands down the most popular product in the category of all self-respecting documentaries. The star of sheltering in place and lockdown that over 10% of the entire population of the United States have already seen, a dizzying stat that surpasses even the great series, like “Game of Thrones” and “Stranger Things”. And here in Spain, we’re not lagging behind either. A plot that smacks of the soap opera based on real events where each character we meet surpasses, or is even worse than the previous one. Each one more extravagant and each one buckling under their own bodily addictions, be it drugs, alcohol, tigers, women, men, money, fame, or power… And of course, they all have something to hide, from animal trafficking to murder. A freakshow where, just when you think you’ve seen the craziest of all, the curtain is pulled back to reveal someone else who’s even freakier.

“Tiger King”

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, and that goes for the star of the show, who has served two years in prison of his 22-year sentence handed down in January. Joe Exotic is the product of trauma: an Oklahoma boy who tries to commit suicide when his father refuses to accept that his son is gay and who finds salvation in breeding tigers. Add to this the fact that he lost his brother in a tragic car accident.What started out as therapy – keeping a couple of those striped animals at home – turns into a zoo with hundreds of big cats caged, undeservedly deprived of the freedom that Joe himself acknowledges at one point during the series. Paradoxically, Joe’s sole purpose is to increase his pack and get rid of those he deems no longer useful. And all at the expense of the cats, of course, as the money rolls in.

But cats aren’t his only obsession. The “Tiger King” is behind bars for a different reason. Allegedly, he paid a hitman to take out Carole Baskin, his arch enemy and a woman whose extremely wealthy ex-husband disappeared under strange circumstances. Nope, she’s not as white as driven snow either. An advocate for animal rights, Carole owns a tiger sanctuary and is hell-bent on closing down Joe’s zoo. Her tabby outfits and the savage décor of her mansion make it clear to us that tigers aren’t just a hobby for her either. In fact, they are practically the reason she exists. But, careful because her kitties are also caged. She rescues them from abuse, and then shuts them up in cages. On top of that, and as we’ve only learned recently, she has just taken over Joe’s zoo.

“Tiger King”

Orbiting around these two bizarre figures are a troupe just as strange and who are even shadier, if that were possible. We have a one-armed employee, whose missing arm was ripped off by a tiger no less; another guy without legs; Joe’s boyfriend, whose penchant for crystal meth has left him with far more tattoos than teeth; another lover who borders on being underage and who’s just as hooked on drugs; a gangster who collects women and carries tiger cubs around in a suitcase on each of his trips; and a campaign manager who – incredible but true – assists Joe in his endeavor to become president of the United States and then run for state governor, but who comes out the other side of the experience wishing he had never got involved in the first place. A cast of characters that you couldn’t make up if you tried, even if they were the product of a delusional mind with oodles of free time on their hands, but who, unfortunately, exist, and are sure to continue providing us with plenty to talk about.

Creators, Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, might also be preparing more episodes of the docuseries and they have already announced an upcoming series starring Nicolas Cage. It remains to be seen what will happen to Joe: will he be released, or will he die in prison? If it were up to most of the characters in the series, they’d be fine with leaving him to rot behind bars. But Joe is not going down without first dragging a few of his cohorts with him. In his statement before the judge, Joe vowed revenge and claims to have proof that many of them are lying. Is Joe telling the truth? From the number of enemies willing to testify against him, we will probably never know. Either way, what can be expected from someone who claims to be a singer songwriter and then makes records using other artists voices? So far, he has already asked Donald Trump to help get him out of prison. “Do you know why animals die when you lock them up? Because their soul dies. Mine is dying in this jail,” he warns. A poignant claim from someone who profited for over 20 years by making a business out of exhibiting caged animals.

Bárbara Padilla. Collaborator in the Series section of La Vanguardia. News editor and presenter on RAC1. Barcelona-based journalist since 2007. An amateur movie buff since she was old enough to know right from wrong and of series since the Netflix boom.