Feature: Mullets, murder, and big cats: our streaming tastes in lockdown

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After the bonus episode of the Tiger King aired this past weekend, what better time to reflect on how being locked in with Netflix has changed our viewing habits?

With the Queen practically quoting Vera Lynn’s infamous wartime anthem ‘We’ll Meet Again’, the expectation was set for us to cuddle up and “comfort watch” charming sitcoms and low-brow family-friendly films to see us through quarantine. However, this is simply not the case.

As quarantine rolls into another month, gone are the days of watching films and TV without a twinge of jealousy. It hurts to watch characters attend crowded events, touch strangers without gloves, and exist without the ever-present fear of coronavirus looming. As we settle into our new state of quarantine, the suffering of characters which once seemed otherworldly, is now becoming hauntingly familiar amid the hysteria of social distancing.

As the fears around coronavirus mounted, our film choices began to reflect our subconscious worries. Soderbergh’s 2011 film, Contagion, based on an eerily similar pandemic to that of COVID-19, rose to the top of the iTunes rental chart, disproving the old adage of the need for escapism during a crisis.

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The film, which relied on the expertise of epidemiologist Professor Ian Lipkin, follows a pandemic from its inception to its vaccine. We see travel restrictions, social unrest and quarantining galore, as Gwyneth Paltrow wreaks havoc as the first person to contract the fictional MEV-1. The film is a horrifyingly accurate prediction and it’s a wonder as to why we’ve collectively drifted towards such a dark portrayal of our current state.

However, the film presents itself as a revelatory index of information as to how, and why an outbreak occurs. In an age of misinformation, and ‘fake news’, Contagion provides the answers that modern-day headlines aren’t. Rather than encouraging escapism, we are turning to realism, choosing to rip off the bandage and reveal the cataclysmic fallout of a global pandemic.

In a time where society is being tested under the weight of corona-based economic strife, and human morality is questioned amid panic-buying and isolation, a show that encompasses this feeling of unprecedented chaos is Netflix’s Tiger King.

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Described as being akin to “pouring tequila on your brain”, Tiger King follows the rise and fall of Joe Exotic, a gun-toting, mullet-sporting, polygamous operator of a big cat park in Oklahoma. The series is far from the comfort-watching expected of us during a time of crisis—watching an episode feels like you’re having a bad trip while being locked in the Big Cat Enclosure.

Far from that, Tiger King is absolute mayhem, incredibly dark and at times feels part mockumentary part Shakespearean tragedy…That is, if Shakespeare lived in the deep south and rocked a mullet. It is bizarre beyond belief, which I suppose is why it fits so well into our crazy existence under quarantine.

The series is deeply exploitative, both of its subjects and its animals, trotting out a range of terrible people, from animal abusers to murderers-for-hire, like it’s an awful person pageant show. The show dives into the darkest parts of human nature, which in a time of crisis, has never been more relevant.

Every day human nature is questioned, ranging from human kindness to manic desperation, as we witness the struggle of survival within quarantine, with many resorting to hoarding and hysteria. Moreover, in watching Tiger King, and judging the actions of others, we are in many ways reflecting on our own bizarre human existence, and the odd behaviours which play out day-to-day.

Throughout our attempts to escape through fictionalised environments that feel bizarre enough to reflect our already bizarre existence, one show that is the perfect example of controlled chaos is Money Heist. Rather than tiger cages or viruses, this stylised Spanish heist drama focuses on an intricate, elaborately planned assault on the Royal Mint of Spain in Madrid.

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The show, which is now the most-watched non-English-language series on Netflix, plays out like a Spanish Ocean’s Eleven. The rag-tag group pull off unbelievable stunts throughout this ultimate high-risk, high reward heist of the century. We’re presented with a world in which danger is controlled, manageable, and the butt of the joke in this swiftly executed plan.

During a time where the threat of coronavirus looms over most elements of everyday existence, danger and fear is ever present. In being able to inhabit these narratives, even for a single episode, we can masquerade as having control over danger, regardless of how fleeting it may be.

So, whatever you choose for your viewing pleasure, consider how the quarantine has influenced your viewing. Whether it’s the bare-all realism of a pandemic film, the escapism of a highly stylised heist, or something with the same levels of mayhem as the world around us, think about whether you’re looking for an escape, or a mirror image.


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Hope Talbot

TV, film and culture writer interested in all things visual. Be it the artwork of Kathe Kollwitz, the films of Wes Anderson and Studio Ghibli, or Phoebe Waller-Bridge's beautiful face, I'll write about.