Two Girls Taking the Law into Their Hands
Teenage Bounty Hunters: Season 5
There's been a lot of discussion lately about finding "the next Buffy the Vampire Slayer". By this, most of the commentariat really means, "a female driven show with the lady as the main, action-oriented hero, with a collection of fun and funny characters supporting her in her adventures and relationships". We had two recent entries in this proto-genre, both of them on NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it). as matter of fact -- Warrior Nun and then Cursed -- but we can throw a third Netflix series onto the pile as well, the recently released Teenage Bounty Hunters.
The thing is that it felt like those other shows -- Cursed, Warrior Nun, and hell, even The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, were all trying to purposefully insert themselves as the "natural" follow-up to Buffy, but each of them in their own ways, failed to really bring it all together. Teenage Bounty Hunters, though, manages to find the right spark -- the action, the comedy, the light and frothy relationships, that little bit of drama to make it all feel real -- to actually play in the same genre as Buffy without feeling like it was trying to. It works because it just does its own thing and then, suddenly, hits on a bit of magic in the process.
That's not to say this first season of the show is perfect. It starts off a little slow, then stumbles occasionally with pacing, all leading to a big, twisty ending/cliffhanger that feels like more a distraction than a climax to the season that came before. Still, when the show hits its stride it really works, showing the kind of promise for what the series can provide if it manages to get a second season (which, with the way Netflix likes to regularly cancel shows, isn't guaranteed).
In the series we're introduced to Blair Wesley (Anjelica Bette Fellini) and her fraternal twin sister Sterling (Maddie Phillips), two high school teens who go to Willingham Academy, a private school for the ultra rich, ultra Christian elite in Georgia. When they're out with their boyfriends one night (flirting with the idea of having sex before marriage), the two girls get caught in a traffic accident, damaging their father's truck. They give chase after the jerk tries to pull a hit and run, eventually chasing him down much to chagrin of bounty hunter Bowser Simmons (Kadeem Hardison) who'd be chasing the perp for days. With the help of the girls Bowser is able to bring the guy in, and he splits the bounty with them.
This prompts Blair, Sterling, and Bowser to team up again, and again, as having to friendly white girls can help the African-American Bowser get into place and situations he wouldn't be able to on his own. Plus, their skill with weapons (having grown up in Georgia) makes them assets on the weekly cases. The girls get jobs, in secret, with Bowser, leading them to have to find a balance between their work, their school, and their relationships, leading to drama, comedy, and a lot of fun.
Teenage Bounty Hunters is, at its core, a light and fizzy bit of entertainment. The whole setup -- two teenage girls becoming bounty hunters -- is silly, pretty well unrealistic outside the context of this series, and the show knows that. It plays up the comedic aspects of the show, letting the characters fly with peppy dialogue and one-liners, all while buying just enough into the absurdity of the situation to have some fun. The girls are prep school Republicans, allowing the show to play on topics like Christianity, the 2nd Amendment, and the lifestyles of the very rich, all while keeping its tongue firmly in its cheek.
The first couple of episodes certainly play up the comedy and the silliness, but they don't invest enough in the setting around the girls. When reviewers describe the show as "shallow but fun" that is likely based on these first two outings, but its as the show carries on, adding depth to Bowser and his external relationships, to the students around the school like resident "mean girl" April (Devon Hales), and gives the girls more to do outside being bounty hunters, like having Blair fall for African-American kid Miles (Myles Evans), that the show really invests and starts to build the kind of depth it needs for its long-term growth.
The core trio of Blair, Sterling, and Bowser are the heart of the show, mind you. Its with them that we get a dynamic that's half Buffy and her Watcher, half Scoobies as they all play off each other, bantering and scheming. Between the three we get three solidly built characters, with flaws and substance that makes them interesting, so that as the season progresses, we invest in these three and their lives. It builds so well that by the end of the season, when Bowser ends up, time and again, dropping what he's doing to help the girls, it feels entirely earned. They've become their own little family unit and it works so well.
What doesn't work as well, though, are Blair and Sterling's actual family, mom Debbie (Virginia Williams) and father Anderson (Mackenzie Astin). In comparison to the level off depth the show is able to give to Bowser, these two actual parents never feel like anything more than shallow caricatures, parodies of characters without actually finding the necessary depth. The show doesn't spend enough time on these two, not in a real and honest capacity, for them to grow and evolve from their simple character ticks, leaving them as simple, one-dimensions beings we never can invest in. More time needs to be given to these two, to find the real selves beneath, so we can care as much about them as we do the girls and Bowser.
Of course, there's probably a reason we don't know their real selves: they hide them, even from the girls, all because of a dark secret they've been hiding for years. While it makes sense in the context of the show, this secret (that I won't spoil in this review) keeps the characters from evolving. Sure, it all comes out by the end of the season (and then some), with a big ending that could shake up the series going forward, so there's every chance the parents will actually grow and change come second season, but right now they're the weak link in the series. They're forced to stay fake and secretive and it does them no favors.
Still, despite this the show has a lot of promise to it. It did take me a little while to get invested, but by the fourth episode (of the ten episode season) I was hooked and devouring it just like Netflix wants me to. If you can get past the slow first couple of episodes, there's a solid, at times meaty show here to enjoy. If the kinks of this first season's growing pains can get worked out, Teenage Bounty Hunters could grow to be a solid, enjoyable romp for seasons to come.