Greetings Unicorns! If you need to turn off your brain and enjoy yourself a bit, perhaps I can interest you in Teenage Bounty Hunters, Kathleen Jordan’s breezy, adventurous one-season wonder on Netflix.
It gives a surprising mix of quirky premise, great cast chemistry, zippy humor, and a light touch of social issues in a Christian setting that has made it a cult favorite, and why I’m reviewing it here today.
So often, the Christianity we see on screen is just a tragic hateful monolith, but it doesn’t have to be that way. And it doesn’t hurt that there are some serious plot twists hiding behind the thrill of each episode’s new chase.
Before I get too far, a quick disclaimer: there will be SPOILERS for season 1 of Teenage Bounty Hunters.
The show’s premise is what takes Blair (Anjelica Bette Fellini) and Sterling’s (Maddie Phillips) story from the usual teen fair to something far more fun because they really swung for the fences with this one. After hooking up with their respective boyfriends, they accidentally drive their way into the middle of a bounty hunter trying to catch his “skip.” With Blair's smarts and Sterling’s shot (their daddy taught them how to shoot — this is Georgia after all!), they step in and realize they’re pretty good at bounty hunting. After messing up their dad’s truck, they need to be in order to pay him back for the damage. And so begins a quirky double life!
One of the twins, Sterling, eventually realizes that she's attracted to her classmate/nemesis and spends the rest of the season enjoying the rush of new love and figuring out how to share it with her sister, family, and friends in a conservative Christian community.
Finally, if this is your first time reading this column, I suggest reading more on the metric I’m using to rate the show by heading over here for a definition.
What I Liked:
From the very first scene, Blair and Sterling defy stereotypes and bring sex positivity into the mix. While Blair is more obviously the outspoken feminist of the two, quick to get in trouble with their very southern grandfather for protesting everything (at the dinner table), it’s Fellowship Leader Sterling who loses her virginity with her boyfriend simply because she wants to have sex.
In her mind, if you love someone, how can God be mad at you for sex? She basically Jedi mind tricks her boyfriend on the catechism of it all, but it’s pretty clear that while Blair apparently has a reputation for dating a lot of guys, Sterling just wanted to have sex, and she refuses to feel bad about it, the school’s rumor mill be damned.
The show isn’t afraid to “go there” on other issues either, like race or class, calling the twins out when they mess up. The girls explicitly use their connections as white country club Christians to help them catch "skips" that Bowser (Kadeem Hardison), their Black boss who owns a froyo franchise, cannot.
Around season 1’s midpoint, Sterling realizes that she’s attracted to her frenemy April (Devon Hales), eventually declaring her feelings and going for it with a kiss, which she’s very surprised that April wholeheartedly returns. The pair then spend the rest of the season making out in secret, flirting in Spanish class, and slyly brushing hands at school while pretending to still hate each other. While they have a certain amount of angst about whether to go public with their relationship, we get to see them do cute couple stuff like woodworking, laser tag, and making silly kissy faces on the phone.
April knows that she’s gay and has since she was a little kid, but same-gender attraction is new for Sterling, who isn’t ready to label herself just yet. April, the more strident of the pair, says that she doesn’t think God will smite her for being gay — God made her, so he must have a master plan. Sterling’s sex positivity continues into her relationship with April, and she remains a devoted Christian throughout.
Often in media, religion and queerness are framed as diametrically opposed, but it's powerful to see people of faith like Sterling who is queer, sex-positive, and unapologetic about who they are.
What I Didn’t Like:
While some might struggle with Sterling not labeling her bisexuality, that feels reasonable for the early stage she’s at in her personal discovery, and I’d hope that any future seasons would involve further discussion on that point. What is more frustrating, however, is the way that Sterling’s twin, Blair, handled Sterling coming out to her.
Sterling lets it slip in the heat of an argument with Blair, who turns on her heels and walks away, leaving her sister alone. Blair reacts to the news like it’s a secret that has been withheld from her, calling her sister an asshole, rather than realizing how vulnerable Sterling must feel and that this secret is fundamentally different from others.
On the one hand, it feels very teen-drama to have a character like Blair make Sterling's coming out all about herself and still not acknowledge how messed up that was in her apology. On the other hand, it’s unclear if the show is aware of how messed up that is. Furthermore, part of what makes Teenage Bounty Hunters great is that it doesn’t talk down to its young protagonists or viewers.
Assuming teenaged girls are self-centered is a crummy stereotype and not one that fits Blair’s character, who in the past mistreats people out of self-sabotage because she’s afraid of what to do with a good thing, not out of selfishness.
Finally, there is the reality of Sterling and April’s circumstances. While they both live in a conservative community, Sterling’s immediate family is more accepting than April’s. Sterling wants to tell the truth about their relationship from early on, but April has a harder time. She goes back and forth with the idea, causing them both some very real heartache. It’s hard to hold this against the show since it’s well written and honest. Many people live in families and communities like April’s, but it can still be frustrating to watch, especially if Teenage Bounty Hunters never gets a second season.
Teenage Bounty Hunters has one character who seems to be bi, Sterling. But she’s still early in her journey, so she hasn’t actually used the word yet, while her love interest, April, is gay. The show does a great job balancing self-love with realism in its representation of queer characters in a conservative Christian setting, but that same setting also means there are only two whole members of the LGBTI community on the show.