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A charming cast fleshes out the thin premise of Teenage Bounty Hunters

Illustration for article titled A charming cast fleshes out the thin premise of iTeenage Bounty Hunters/i
Photo: Tina Rowden/Netflix
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The title Teenage Bounty Hunters sounds like somebody was playing Mad Libs at a Netflix programming brainstorm meeting. Created by American Princess scribe Kathleen Jordan and including some big-name executive producers like Orange Is The New Black’s Jenji Kohan, the premise of TBH is one that seems like it shouldn’t work right out out of the gate. How in the world could there be teenage bounty hunters, let alone ones that are also dealing with their snobby private school, an overprotective Stepford mom, and the basic tenets of Christianity while they are, as one of them puts it, women in training?

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The fact that this implausible setup works at all is a testament to the charm of Maddie Phillips and Anjelica Bette Fellini as the underaged Atlanta bounty hunters in question. They play Sterling and Blair Wesley, 16-year-old fraternal twins who crash their dad’s truck while getting in the way of actual bounty hunter Bowzer (an always welcome Kadeem Hardison) tracking down a “skip” one night. Turns out Sterling is a hell of a shot thanks to her gun-owning Southern family (the kids support the Second Amendment, but not the NRA), while the athletic Blair has more speed to chase down a bail-skipper than the out-of-shape Bowzer. They need money to fix the truck, so Bowzer agrees to take them on as interns, leading to various cases of the episode while the twins also juggle homework, boyfriends, and extracurriculars like the debate team.

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The attempts to align these two worlds—watching the twins track down a perp in a strip club one day, and spotting them at a restrictive country club (be prepared to see a Confederate flag more than once) the next—are jarring enough to make you wonder if these halves belong in the same show. Bowzer’s solo adventures sometimes seem pulled from a different series altogether. But Phillips and Fellini make for an engaging pair, playing devoted sisters who are even blessed with a sort-of twin psychic ability. Wide-eyed innocent Sterling is the more strait-laced sibling, while the frequently sarcastic Blair is a little edgier. The two have an surprisingly warm, familial chemistry with Hardison, which helps the bounty hunter team pull off amusing and unlikely schemes like Bowzer and Blair going undercover in a recording studio. Hardison’s beleaguered world-weariness plays well against the twins’ youthful exuberance, his eyeroll almost constant as the girls go off on tangents about kissing their boyfriends or second-semester study hall until he begs them to focus yet again.

The trio of Hardison, Phillips, and Fellini is certainly capable, especially given the inexperience of the younger actors, but they are given a lot to handle. Belying the simplicity of its title, Teenage Bounty Hunters gets extremely complicated as it delves into concepts like teenage purity, first-time queer experiences, and an intriguing mystery involving the girls’ mom, whose polished facade apparently hides a multitude of past sins. Fortunately, the main cast is backed by equally talented performers like Mackenzie Astin as the girls’ dad, underrated Fairly Legal alum Virginia Williams as their duplicitous mom, and Devon Hales as a venomous classmate.

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Best of all, the dialogue practically crackles: Sterling puts a gun in her purse because “I wasn’t going to meet up with a bounty hunter unarmed—that’s just common sense!” Blair comments at one of their mother’s social gatherings that “Mrs. Burton told her that the guest towels were beautifully crisp; she’ll be high on that ’til Christmas.” The twins poke fun at Sterling’s boyfriend Luke and his reluctance to watch movies with subtitles: “Why would I read a movie? I don’t drink meatloaf.”

However outlandish the teens’ bounty hunter lifestyle appears to be (willing the audience to ignore the fact that the girls’ strict parents are somehow unaware of all their late-night outings, never mind the fact that they are able to fit these adventures into what appears to be an already packed teen lifestyle), the appealing performances of Phillips and Fellini may be enough to lure the viewer in for some summer-fun viewing. But which viewers? Although primarily set in a high school, the show is rated TV-MA—albeit more for the nudity in the strip club and a few explicit sex scenes than any perp-related violence. Still, it’s a missed opportunity not to steer this show more toward the teen market, an audience that would be able to relate to and appreciate the twins’ quips and commentary than any other. It’s right there in the title.

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Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.

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