A far cry from the eccentric voyeurism of Tiger King, The Doc Antle Story is a bleak tale of cultish sexual abuse and exploitation.
This review of Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story is spoiler-free.
Tiger King introduced us to such a menagerie of eccentric criminals one suspects you could craft a spin-off docuseries about each of them. If Netflix are so inclined, and you have to imagine they are, they could conceivably create Tiger King content forever, a conveyer belt of larger-than-life hillbilly abusers, each more depraved than the last. Arriving hot on the heels of Tiger King 2, the three-part story of “Doc” Bhagavan Antle is a very different proposition than that of big-cat impresario Joe Exotic. Even Joe, who cameos briefly from prison, where he’s serving an extended sentence for supposedly plotting to murder his arch-nemesis Carole Baskin, thinks Doc is a conman. Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin’s new series posits that being a conman isn’t even half of it.
Doc’s real name is Kevin, which is funny but also a reminder of how aggressively he seems to reject anything that might be perceived as mundane. He has claimed everything depicted in the series is false, but given the severity of the accusations he would say that, wouldn’t he? And it’s the severity of the accusations that gives The Doc Antle Story a wildly different tone from the stranger-than-fiction appeal of Tiger King. I’m not even sure about the legality of reproducing them here. Suffice it to say, what begins as the story of an eccentric magician in rural Virginia morphs into one of a cult-leader who begins to model himself on esteemed yogi Swami Satchidananda, the guru who delivered the opening blessing at Woodstock and at whose ashram, Yogaville, Doc Antle spent a significant period of time.
As with seemingly all stories of self-styled cult leaders, Doc’s is defined by predatory behavior, sexual abuse, and extreme narcissism, as he navigates multiple marriages, flings, flourishing private zoos, and highly suspicious deaths of so-called apprentices. The impression, which is repeated often, is that Doc left a trail of devastation in his wake, mostly in the form of women and business associates who ran afoul of him, many of whom contributed to the series. (Antle himself, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to have done – most of the footage of him is recycled from Tiger King and elsewhere.)
Perhaps there’s some truth to the idea, put forward by Carole Baskin and now Antle, that these Netflix shows are prone to sensationalism, to taking weird stories and contorting them into outright criminal ones. But it’s likelier that people like Baskin and Antle don’t like any attention that they can’t carefully control and turn to their advantage. Antle has had his facilities raided and been indicted on charges of wildlife trafficking, but given some of what gets discussed here, these things seem like the least of his problems.
If the secret to Tiger King was that Joe Exotic made for an unusual, unlikely underdog whom the system might have conspired against, the secret to The Doc Antle Story might be that Antle makes the perfect villain. He’s detestable and, if even some of the allegations here are true, irredeemable. But that also puts this docuseries in the uncomfortable position of making mainstream entertainment out of vulgar, shameless amorality. It paints a bleak portrait and doesn’t make for light entertainment. On most levels, it barely even qualifies as entertainment at all.