As of this writing, the most popular Netflix streaming choice in the United States is Tiger King, a seven-episode series about the eccentric Oklahoma zookeeper, Joseph Maldonado-Passage (né Schreibvogel aka Joe Exotic), and Carole Baskin, an animal rights activist who tries to bring him down.
It is riveting, grotesque entertainment that you could not make up if it weren’t real. Tiger King is a sensation, and it more than scratches our itch for addictive real-life drama while we are cooped up at home. But it does much more. If we let it, the series can provoke theological reflection about our need for redemption through several particularly extreme test cases of human brokenness. In a year effectively without Holy Week and Easter, Tiger King should have Christians aching for the cross and the empty tomb, and perhaps spur non-Christians to seek their true selves in Christ and the Church.
To literary types, Tiger King may carry a whiff of Flannery O’Connor’s southern Gothic. Aside from the animals, Joe’s zoo is full of the most extraordinary misfits: a man with two prosthetic legs, a woman who lost her arm to a tiger, two straight men who engage in a three-way relationship with Joe in exchange for drugs, guns, and vehicles, and a chain-smoking Hollywood producer trying to make everybody rich.