Tiger King was released in the early stages of the pandemic in the UK. When it came out on Netflix at the end of March, the series was a smash, making household names out of its exotic-animal-loving cast of villains, wrong ’uns and suspiciously chirpy people alike.
It was a punchline, a talking point, a meme, and its appeal seemed to reach almost everyone, no matter how cheap or how easy it felt to be gripped by the sorry saga at the centre of it.
I think this was because, at every turn, viewers were made to believe that what was happening in the world of big cats could not get any more ludicrous or distressing. Surely an arm ripped off would be as gruesome as it gets; surely a bid for political office by a gun-toting, gay, misogynistic polyamorist was as silly, as wild.
And then, in the next episode, it always got worse and went further. In many ways, it makes sense that this was the hit of lockdown: we are growing familiar with a cycle of being shocked and appalled by ridiculous antics and then shocked and appalled by them again.
Even though the series lasted only eight episodes, the human beings who fed the Tiger King industry continue to offer plot lines that unspool outside the documentary, turning this into an all-day, all-you-can-eat buffet of operatic tragedy. In the latest instalment, Carole Baskin was handed control of the zoo previously owned by Joe Exotic, taking it away from Jeff Lowe, who, in a labyrinthine tangle of legal issues and dodgy dealings, took it away from Exotic.
With an eye for a dramatic exit, Lowe has said this of Baskin: “I wish her all the luck in the world and she can have these 16 acres of haunted memories.” Meanwhile, from prison, where he is serving a long sentence for trying to arrange to have Baskin killed, as well as animal abuse, Exotic has called for her “treachery” to be examined.
Whatever you think of Baskin, and viewers have thought absolutely everything about her, this victory is a symbolic one and hard won. She claims that when she originally agreed to take part in the documentary she thought it would be about conservation and the big cat trade, but she called the end result “salacious and sensationalised”, which seems like a fair point. Last week, a Florida sheriff suggested that her missing ex-husband’s will was forged. On it goes, the Tiger King machine. There is always more.
Clara Amfo: speaking out when silence will not do
Radio has come into its own. People have written at length about its resurgence as a medium, about the comfort and support it has offered to its audiences in lockdown, as the pandemic goes on and on.
Last week, during her Radio 1 late morning show, in just under four minutes, Clara Amfo made broadcasting history with an urgent, beautiful, vital speech. On Tuesday, the presenter took a moment to explain to her listeners why she had not been at work the day before.
What followed was one of the most powerful moments of radio I have ever heard. “I am just a woman, who does a radio show, but my job is very public-facing, so I want to talk to you,” said Amfo, with the intimacy of someone addressing a friend.
She talked about the effect that the death of George Floyd had had on her mental health. Her voice cracked as she talked of seeing “yet another brutalised black body” on the news and the mass consumption of black culture. “You cannot enjoy the rhythm and ignore the blues,” she said, quoting Amanda Seales. “I feel it deeply.”
It was honest and personal and raw, specific as well as broad, truly phenomenal. The sheer power of what she said highlighted the fact that these points are rarely, if ever, heard on mainstream radio. They should be, more, and again. Amfo spoke her truth, as did many others: as John Boyega said, he was putting his career on the line when he spoke at the Black Lives Matter protest in London’s Hyde Park.
“Let’s do this. Let’s all be anti-racist,” Amfo concluded, before playing Kendrick Lamar’s Alright. Listen to it, if you missed it. Listen again, if you did not. It was a moment that will not be forgotten.
Will Sharpe: unsung star honoured with Bafta nod
Considering its brilliance, the bilingual drama/thriller Giri/Haji featured in remarkably few best-of-2019 lists. I missed it off my own contributions to the TV polls because, to my shame, I simply didn’t watch it in time.
There is only so much viewing one can do, despite the past few weeks suggesting that there is a far greater capacity for it than we thought. Binge-watching? Medieval-feast-watching is more appropriate. If lockdown has given some of us ample opportunity to catch up, then I’m glad to have used mine to discover Giri/Haji’s funny, brutal genius.
Judging by the TV Bafta nominations, there are plenty of people feeling the love for it too. The ceremony will be virtual and has been pushed back to July and the predictable suspects are all contenders – Fleabag, Chernobyl, The Crown. But Giri/Haji also had a strong showing, with nods for best drama series, best actor for Takehiro Hira, and best supporting actor for Will Sharpe.
Sharpe was remarkable as the brittle, witty sex worker Rodney and he also wrote Flowers, one of the most underrated TV shows that I can never bang on about enough. If he doesn’t win, it will be an outrage.
• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist