The first season of Netflix’s “Tiger King” was like lightning in a bottle, capturing the insane and wacky world of big cat ownership, and the shady characters revolving around rivals Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin. It’s something I don’t think Netflix is going to be able to replicate, mostly because the beauty of the first season came from the fact that most of the people interviewed in it either didn’t know or didn’t care about how they were incriminating themselves at least in the court of public opinion — no one knew that Tiger King would blow up on the internet.
And thus, we got a very limited Season 2 that included mostly updates on Exotic’s situation, and now we have an even more limited 3-episode spinoff show titled “Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story.”
The show focuses on the titular Doc Antle, who was a prominent figure in Tiger King Season 1, but was pretty absent from Season 2. Antle was one of Exotic’s mentors — the series even notes that Exotic’s business was like a poor man’s version of Antle’s operation. As such, Antle’s tale is a dubious one of animal abuse and wildlife trafficking under the guise of animal conservation, exploiting his exotic animals for personal gain.
But Antle goes a step farther than Exotic, as he runs his park like a cult where female staffers are pressured to sleep with him and modify their bodies. This series takes a deeper dive into his past, going into his past relationships with people like his first wife, Betsy Rogers, and Sumati Steinberg, and Radha Hirsch, the last two of which the series alleges he started relationships with when they were children.
A former follower of Satchidananda Saraswati, Antle’s first facility was apparently very close to his Yogaville compound, and the documentary doesn’t have many kind words for Saraswati, painting a picture of a cult leader that abused his status as a spiritual leader to coerce his followers into getting into sexual relationships with him, and he was apparently very fond of Antle.
And it was through Yogaville that Antle was able to get with very young girls like Sumati Steinberg and Radha Hirsch, who appear in this series and speak out against him, who are supported by his first wife, who corroborates their accounts.
Outside of those allegations, perhaps the most stunning is the implication the docuseries makes that he had something to do with the death of one of his employees, Mark Topping. Topping is described as being his No. 2 man who fell off a cliff shortly after having a heated interaction with Antle, who owed him money at the time. The death is akin to the alleged death of Baskin’s husband, Don Lewis, in the regards that Antle acted very suspiciously — according to the docuseries’ sources — but there is no evidence that points to fowl play. In the Lewis case, this is because he hasn’t been found, and for Topping, it’s because he was in the middle of nowhere, with no witnesses save Antle.
And therein lies the problem at the core of this docuseries: It has a lot of allegations, many of them credible, but it’s most spicy ones are from about 30 years years ago and more, and are likely unproveable. It must also be said that Antle is not a suitable stand-in for Exotic, who had many redeeming qualities and was a generally entertaining subject matter: Antle has none of his charm, and his allegations and past are far more serious.
The Guardian’s Stuart Heritage argued recently why it’s time to say goodbye to Tiger King, and I believe he is correct. I know we’ll inevitably get Tiger King Season 3 when enough time has passed, but it really feels like Netflix is trying to overextend this series. I don’t mind getting the occasional new Tiger King season to keep us all updated on what’s happening to the show’s subject matters, but I don’t think we needed a Tiger King spinoff show.
“Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story” Season 1 feels like “Tiger King” Season 2, except even more half-baked.
“Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story” Season 1 gets a 5/10