'Get In Loser, We're going Bounty Hunting!' A Review of Netflix's Teenage Bounty Hunters
If you’re aching for a solid binge to get you through another week of social distancing, then Netflix has just the pill to remedy your boredom. The Atlanta-based Teenage Bounty Hunters, Netflix’s newest original series, is the perfect firecracker to spice up these slow summer days.
Picture Hannah Montana, but instead of leading a double life as a teen pop star, she traded her denim and rhinestones for a handgun and license to become Dog the Bounty Hunter. Throw in a dose of raging hormones, and you essentially have Sterling and Blair Wesley—twin sisters in the throes of their youth who unwittingly become… well, the title says it all. Is it a far-flung formula? Absolutely. But is it entertaining? Uproariously so!
In the crime/comedy series created by Kathleen Jordan, sisters Sterling (Maddie Phillips) and Blair (Anjelica Bette Fellini) deal with the typical high school problems at their private Christian academy: gossipy Mean Girls-style cliques, the devastation of adolescent heartbreak, the struggle to find one’s own identity, and of course the big factor on every teenager’s mind—sex. Oh yeah, and they also happen to be bounty hunters. After a chance run-in and misunderstanding with the gruff but lovable bounty hunter Bowser (Kadeem Hardison), the girls discover their calling as bail enforcement agents and turn to a secret life of nabbing ‘skips’ to repay for smashing up their daddy’s truck. All while under the cover of working an afterschool job at Bowser’s froyo shop/base of operations.
I’ve got to admit, it is tough to buy the girls as bounty hunters, let alone that the no-nonsense Bowser would offer the post to a couple of bubble-headed high schoolers. But that is precisely why it works. Sterling and Blair are so out of their element as we discover the world of bounty hunting along with them, that it is just farfetched enough to be entertaining. While the Bounty Hunting half of the show is the candy coating, providing much of the humor and action as the girls help Bowser nail a slew of quirky marks, the Teenage part is the chocolatey center at the heart of the Tootsie Pop, and where I feel the series truly excels.
Maddie Phillips and Anjelica Bette Fellini are both outstanding as Sterling and Blair respectively, and they perfectly capture the spirit of teen angst, where every schoolroom rumor is life or death, every breakup the end of the world. Phillips’s Sterling is the more innocent and seemingly well-put-together of the twins (some might say a goody two shoes) while Fellini’s drama queen Blair is more of a wild card, rebellious and willful. And together, their chemistry is electric. Though they may not look like twin sisters, they definitely feel like them, particularly in the show’s creative, fourth-wall-breaking sequences in which the girls communicate with a sort of twin telepathy, the kind only made possible by the bond of sisterhood.
Let’s talk for a second about Kadeem Hardison’s Bowser—one of my favorite characters. Hardison was hilarious and at times surprisingly heartwarming as the grizzled and grumpy senior bounty hunter. He was basically Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon, but instead of one upstart Mel Gibson, he is made to contend with two hormonal and melodramatic teenage girls. One of my favorite delights of the show was watching Bowser roll his eyes and sink into his seat whenever the girls would start bickering about boys or oversharing the juicy details of their love lives from the back of his truck. “I’m getting too old for this sh*t!”
Some of the best episodes were also the most socially relevant, commenting on pressing issues that our country faces today. For instance, in one episode, Bowser and the girls track a “vandal” defacing monuments that commemorate Confederate generals (remember, the show takes place in and around Atlanta). In another, Bowser is accosted and arrested by police while parked on a stakeout in an affluent white neighborhood, despite holding a license as a bail enforcement officer. While there is plenty of frivolous fluff and fun to be had in Teenage Bounty Hunters, I’ve got to commend Jordan and her writers for knowing when to get serious and adding to the social justice conversation in their own way. And I’d be remiss not to mention the recurring theme of the girls’ sexual awakening conflicting with the values of their conservative Christian upbringing, which plays a major role in their characterization—particularly Sterling—throughout the show.
Aside from Sterling, Blair, and Bowser, other standouts include April (Devon Hales), a classmate of the girls and preppy frenemy to Sterling; Miles (Myles Evans), a seemingly dorky valet who becomes Blair’s love interest; and especially Debbie Wesley (Virginia Williams), the girls’ mother who is stern but caring and will do anything to protect her daughters. With each of these characters, there is more to them than it first seems. And every one of these actors delivers appropriately nuanced performances that evolve in surprising ways over the course of the show.
So, if you’ve been searching for the perfect bounty to fill your Netflix queue, then your hunt is over. Sit back, grab a cup of frozen yogurt, and enjoy the quirky blend of teen drama with rollicking crime action, filmed around your favorite Atlanta locations. Teenage Bounty Hunters is your mark!