For a while it seemed the only thing anyone could bring themselves to watch or talk about was Netflix’s Tiger King, and for good reason. The docuseries provided a look into a world of which few know little. Who realized there are more tigers in captivity in the United States than there are living free in the wild before the series premiered? However, they say the brightest stars burn out fastest, and this may prove true for the saga of Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin.
According to Nielsen, Netflix’s first-day viewership for Ozark‘s third season nearly tripled the numbers for Season 2 … and also nearly tripled Tiger King‘s premiere numbers. Netflix also claims the numbers for Ozark were higher than first-day viewership for Orange Is the New Black‘s seventh season and for Mindhunter‘s second season. Tiger King and Ozark have more in common than one may think, and these similarities make Ozark‘s ratings dominance even more surprising.
Obviously it’s not entirely fair to compare the ratings for a completely unknown new series with those of a well-loved show entering its third season. That being said, both shows had the chance to take advantage of a quarantine-era environment where streaming is one of the few consistent sources of new entertainment. Tiger King was the first big show of the quarantine, and perhaps Ozark is the second.
Some might malign the popularity of either of these shows, but most would probably agree that Ozark is of a more respectable calliber than Tiger King. Tiger King might be entertaining, but it’s nothing more than a showcase for why big cats should not be kept in captivity outside of professionally-run zoos and sanctuaries. It is a constant barrage of egos and greed, culminating in the punishment of the one man too stupid to see the pieces falling around him. Joe Exotic is not a man to be admired or looked up to — he is a man who should be punished for the crimes he willingly committed.
Ozark‘s protagonists, while morally cloudy, are not entirely morally reprehensible. None of them euthanize any tigers in Ozark, as far as the audience knows. Also, they’re fictional, so even if they were total monsters there simply isn’t the same ethical issues there are with obsessing over real-life criminals. There is a difference between admiring a character in a scripted series and a non-scripted series, and the dynamic between these two shows highlights these differences perfectly.
Perhaps what Tiger King is missing that Ozark has is that empathetic center. While audiences of the feline drama certainly feel empathy for the animals being mistreated by these “sanctuary” owners, it is no doubt that the energy directed at the subject’s themselves has been rather disturbing. The complete vilification of Carole Baskin should be reason enough as to why we should not be making these people popular. On the one hand, you have people like Joe Exotic, who let the fame go to their heads. On the other, you have Carole Baskin, whose fame has only increased the chances of violent vigilante justice being carried out against her and her husband.
The popularity of Ozark should not be seen as a victory for only original, dramatic storytelling. It should also be a victory over humanity’s baser instincts. It’s nice to wallow in the trash of the entertainment world every once in a while, but quality always wins out in the end.
All episodes of Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness are currently streaming on Netflix.
Season 3 of Ozark, which stars Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Sofia Hublitz, Skylar Gaertner, Julia Garner, Jordana Spiro, and Charlie Tahan, is currently available on Netflix.
Although Tiger King had been an international sensation, Ozark had time to build an established story that audiences love to come back to for more.