Review: Smartly satirical Teenage Bounty Hunters is a perfect weekend binge


Fraternal twin sisters Sterling (Maddie Phillips) and Blair (Anjelica Bette Fellini) join forces with bounty hunter Bowser Simmons (Kadeem Hardison) in the new Netflix series Teenage Bounty Hunters.

Twin sisters juggle the demands of high school, their Christian youth group, and raging hormones with a side gig working for a local bounty hunter in the new Netflix series, Teenage Bounty Hunters. Creator Kathleen Jordan’s delightful comedy-drama definitely brings the laughs with its razor-sharp satire, but it is also a smart, nuanced coming of age story with some genuinely surprising twists and turns. One of the executive producers is Jenji Kohan, who also worked on WeedsGLOW, and Orange Is the New Black, and Teenage Bounty Hunters shares a similar sensibility.

(Mild spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

Per the official premise:

Rebelling against their buttoned-up Southern community, sixteen-year-old fraternal twin sisters Sterling (Maddie Phillips, Summerland) and Blair (Anjelica Bette Fellini, The Gifted) Wesley team up with veteran bounty hunter Bowser Jenkins (Kadeem Hardison, Black Monday) for an over-the-top adventure as they dive into the world of bail skipping baddies and suburban secrets while trying to navigate high school drama—love, sex, and study hall.

Atlanta high schoolers Sterling and Blair meet Bowser by accident one night when they crash their father’s pricey hunting truck into the car of a bail jumper (“skip”) he’s chasing. And like the good southern Christian girls they are, they have guns and are more than proficient with said weapons, capturing Bowser’s skip for him in exchange for a share of the reward. They wheedle their way into working more jobs with him to pay for the damage to the truck, telling their straitlaced parents that they are working at Yogurtopia, a frozen yogurt shop that Bowser runs when not tracking down skips. (Every bounty hunter needs a side hustle.)

The original title was Slutty Teenage Bounty Hunters, but Netflix dropped the “slutty” moniker when its premiere date was announced. That was a good decision, because one of the strongest aspects of the show is the straightforward, starkly honest way in which it deals with teenaged sex.  Neither of the sisters are actually “slutty,” however much they like to toss that adjective around because they think it sounds badass. They’re in that “pushing society’s boundaries” phase of teenage development. The moniker might apply to “Horny Lorna” (Given Sharp, Swamp Thing), a notoriously promiscuous fellow student at Willingham Academy, the twins’ private school. But even Lorna is pretty performative in her supposed sluttiness, so she might be making some of it up, too.

Sterling loses her virginity to her longterm boyfriend, Luke (Spencer House, Space Force), in the pilot—she seduces him by quoting Bible verses. Blair has yet to have sex, but she is quite matter-of-fact about seeking feedback from the boy she’s been seeing on the technical proficiency of her hand jobs. In other words, they both have perfectly healthy, normal sex drives, and they have a desire to act on those drives—on their own terms.

That said, it’s behavior that certainly qualifies as slutty within their Christian youth fellowship, particularly with Sterling’s arch-nemesis, the ambitiously self-righteous April (Devon Hales, The Resident). The satirization of evangelical Christian purity culture is spot-on. April wants nothing more than to oust Sterling and take over as leader of the fellowship, and she sees her chance when she suspects Sterling isn’t quite as pure as the others believe.

Indeed, Sterling is ostracized when she comes clean about having sex with Luke, at least until she figures out how to play the “redemption” game to get back in the fellowship’s good graces. If there’s anything evangelical circles love as much as judging and ostracizing the fallen, it’s welcoming the fallen back into the fold after they hit bottom, are “touched by Jesus,” and repent of their wicked ways. The way Sterling milks her “special” status as a repentant sinner, compared to her cohorts who are hungry to experience something that “real,” is masterful.

The satirization of evangelical Christian purity culture is spot-on.

Phillips and Fellini are terrific as the twin sisters, bringing just the right mix of bravado, innocence, curiosity, and vulnerability to their roles. They are charming and likable characters when they could have easily just been annoying. Hardison’s world-weary Bowser can’t help but feel protective toward them through his exasperation—they’re still teenagers, however helpful they prove to be when it comes to infiltrating exclusive (all-white) country clubs and nursing homes. Their relationship with Bowser reveals that his heart is bigger than his surface cynicism would otherwise attest.

The supporting cast is just as good. There’s a rival bounty hunter with his own popular YouTube channel, Terrance Coin (played to perfection by Cliff “Method Man” Smith, The Wire), who is Bowser’s competition not just for prime skips with big payouts, but also for the affection of bail bonds person Yolanda (Shirley Rumierk, Rise). Hales’ April might seem like the stereotypically insincere goody-two-shoes endlessly spouting evangelical catchphrases, but Hales brings so much more depth to the character as the season progresses.

Virginia Williams (Fuller House) shines as the twins’ mother, Debbie Wesley, who might just have a secret of her own, and Wynn Everett (This Is Us, Agent Carter) is sheer perfection as Ellen Johnson, the relentlessly cheery fellowship teacher at Willingham Academy. Mackenzie Astin (The Magicians, Rosewood) plays the twins’ father, Anderson, and he takes what could have been a one-dimensional role and brings out the man hiding beneath the veneer of the perfect Christian patriarch.

The cast has the pleasure of working with some very smart, savvy writing and directing. The dialogue is note-perfect, the characters are complicated in interesting ways, and these ten episodes are expertly paced, making Teenage Bounty Hunters a perfect weekend binge.

Teenage Bounty Hunters is now streaming on Netflix.

Listing image by Netflix



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