The year is 2041. A now almost entirely sedentary human race no longer streams Netflix content but ingests it via tablet. All the wild tigers are long dead (RIP) but broadcasting directly to your mind is Tiger King 32. Here we learn of former Exotic aide Joshua Dial’s run for the US Presidency. Rick Kirkham, meanwhile, is now merely a brain in a jar; still sentient, still chain-smoking somehow. Carole Baskin is in hiding, the scourge of the internet after a freak bicycle accident crippled a liger. And Joe? Oh Joe’s doing fine, thanks. He cut his hair and got a job as an accountant. It’s all very low-key.
But first there’s Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story, which carves open the life and times of the former resident of the notorious Satchidananda Ashram in Buckingham County’s Yogaville, Virginia. At various times a jobbing magician and practicing polygamist, the man sometimes known as Mahamayavi Bhagavan Antle is the owner of his own home for exotic species, the Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.) in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He’s also, if you’re to believe the (more often than not) compelling accusations offered forth on this three part spin-off from the main Tiger King story, a paedophile, a domestic abuser, a gasser of tiger cubs, a man who put a monkey in a fridge, a fraudster hiding his true motivations under the cloak of faux-conservation – and, in the words of one former associate, “the Harvey Weinstein of the exotic animal industry”. Antle has previously denied all claims made against him in Netflix’s Tiger King documentaries.
The new series also proposes that Antle might be a murderer – it devotes nearly a whole episode to it – a claim so audacious and unsubstantiated, it’s amazing that Netflix’s legal department signed off on it. But the murder claim is so salacious, it coming entirely without evidence, that it stretches the credibility of every claim that has come prior. Over three episodes, every molecule of Mantle’s character is so thoroughly torn apart and critiqued, in tone, the series often resembles a WhatsApp group made up of a scorned lover and their squad of friends. Serious accusations require serious and forensic discussion, neither of which are present here.
This bias sits uncomfortably with the show’s presentation of its content as journalism. It also makes for extremely boring viewing. There’s no attempt to understand why Antle is how he is. No opposing voices. Every trial features a defence, after all. We are, for example, presented with only a vague portrait of childhood (the privileged heir to a hippy-run farming empire – a reveal which contains only a smidgen more flesh on the bone than what you’ve just been told), just scattershot cigarette packet-psychology from angry and aggrieved former associates. Antle is obsessed with “control”. He’s a “psychopath”. A “sociopath”. You suspect that come Tiger King 3, Antle’s contributions will come from jail. But the series preference for salaciousness over storytelling, innuendo over insight, means watching Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story is an experience as dignified as eating a twelve-piece KFC bucket, on your own, in your underpants. Only nowhere near as filling.
‘Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story’ is streaming now on Netflix