Editor’s Note: TV moves on, but we haven’t. In our feature series It Still Stings, we relive emotional TV moments that we just can’t get over. You know the ones, where months, years, or even decades later, it still provokes a reaction? We’re here for you. We rant because we love. Or, once loved. And obviously, when discussing finales in particular, there will be spoilers:
Teenage Bounty Hunters, all things considered, should have been a massive hit. Similar to other Netflix comedies like Sex Education and Never Have I Ever, it had all the markings of a cult classic: humor, action, and lots of heart. Created by Kathleen Jordan and executive produced by Orange Is the New Black and GLOW mastermind Jenji Kohan, Teenage Bounty Hunters was a pandemic-era casualty, canceled shortly after its premiere on August 14th, 2020.
While Netflix was busy cutting back (canceling other fan-favorites like The Society, GLOW, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, etc), wonderful and unique shows got lost in the shuffle, as they tend to do in the neverending upload cycle the streamer has adopted. TBH was one of those shows, released into the world without much promotion or fanfare, but a passionate fan movement (which even involved packs of Sour Patch Kids being sent in droves to Netflix headquarters) ensured that word got around about this wonderfully unique teen comedy.
Teenage Bounty Hunters is exactly what it sounds like: Teenage twin sisters Sterling (Maddie Phillips) and Blair Wesley (Anjelica Bette Fellini) find themselves becoming interns to cynical bounty hunter Bowser (Kadeem Hardison) to make enough money to pay their dad back for wrecking his truck, with their cover being after-school jobs at Bowser’s yogurt shop. These newly minted teenage bounty hunters find themselves in the thick of the action throughout the series, but the real stakes come in the form of their other lives, as students at a private Christian school in Atlanta.
In fact, Teenage Bounty Hunters succeeds in this element where most other heightened teen series fail: for Sterling and Blair, high school stakes are higher than bounty hunting in almost every way. In most teen shows, there are elements of the importance of high school drama throughout, but those oftentimes get thrown out the window in favor of, you know, saving the world. In Teenage Bounty Hunters, though, it’s quite the opposite. During Episode 7, “Cleave or Whatever,” Sterling and Blair join Bowser to hunt down a bounty, tracking him to a motel. They find this bounty in the middle of a threesome with two women, and after the man is apprehended, Sterling pulls his wife aside. Sterling, in the most endearing way possible, rambles to this woman about her crush on her friend April (Devon Hales), and asks her how to broach the subject. The woman offers her some advice, suggesting she throw out bait and see if she bites, and Sterling asks her if that will really work. Her response? “My husband’s going to jail with glass in his feet, I don’t f—ing know.”
This single scene encapsulates everything that was so wonderful about this gone-too-soon series. In high school, every emotion is immense and everything feels like life or death. For Sterling, her confusing feelings for April are life or death, more so than the rambunctious arrest that was just made moments before. It’s authentically teenage, in a way that most shows can’t or won’t embrace. And Sterling isn’t the only one to prioritize her feelings over bounty hunting, as Blair spends the following episode running back and forth between a hunting gig with Bowser and a date with her boyfriend Miles.
Aside from its expertly handled metaphors about the inner lives of teenage girls and the high stakes of high school, the show is also wonderfully enjoyable and incredibly funny (“What are amphetamines?” Sterling asks. Blair replies, “Drugs that can go on land and water”). The chemistry between Phillips and Fellini as siblings is electric, and, for good reason—the show rests on their backs more often than not. The exploration of the intersection between Atlantan Christianity and teenage girlhood is rich, allowing these protagonists to question the beliefs they grew up with and come out of that self-examination stronger than before. In addition, the queer storytelling of this show is stellar, coming in the form of Sterling’s self-discovery as a bisexual woman and April’s self-assured belief that God does love her, lesbian identity included.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a canceled Netflix show if it didn’t end with a massive cliffhanger. But even with all the unanswered questions, it still remains an incredibly fun watch to this day. The series’ ability to remain easily rewatchable in spite of its truncated life lends credence to its strong premise and cast of characters—each an element of the series that could have been built on in a potential second season if it were given the chance.
Unfortunately, TBH was the kind of show that was dropped on Netflix, posted about a couple of times by its various editorial accounts, and then left to get lost in the shuffle of the endless barrage of content that floods the streamer. It wasn’t one of their blockbuster shows, and its August 2020 release date was overshadowed by Lucifer Season 5, which premiered only a week later. It was a victim of the kind of television churn Netflix has uniquely created, by deciding which of its thousands of originals will fail and which will succeed based solely on whether or not a show is their marketing priority for that particular month.
In 2019, Gossip Girl (2021) and Quantico showrunner Joshua Safran tweeted that he “personally feel[s] like,” his Netflix original series Soundtrack “never came out,” citing a lack of promotion as the downfall of his series. Teenage Bounty Hunters falls into that same category, similar to recent cancellations like First Kill, or still-open wounds like I Am Not Okay with This and One Day at a Time. The common denominator for most of these prematurely-axed Netflix series is simple: stories centered around minorities, specifically women, people of color, and queer people. It’s extremely discouraging to see these stories started only to be cut short, while the straightest and whitest of Netflix originals continue to thrive.
Teenage Bounty Hunters, unfortunately, is just one of many unfinished series sitting in Netflix’s back catalog, with no chance of ever reaching true cult status—a Netflix original that has no chance of ever being continued is understandably a hard sell for potential audiences. Teenage Bounty Hunters was an incredibly unique show, both in premise and execution, worthy of being discovered still to this day. Though, I don’t blame potential viewers for saving themselves the heartache.
Honestly, that’s what stings the most about Teenage Bounty Hunters’ cancellation: the pain brought on by the show’s unceremonious demise almost outweighs the joy it radiates. But ultimately, that joy will remain in the hearts of those who loved it, especially as we celebrate the wonderful show it was, and mourn what show it could have been if given the chance.
Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in Chicago. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.
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