Teenage Bounty Hunters premiered on August 14, 2020, and was an unexpected beam of sunshine during that nightmare of a year. It was quietly dropped by Netflix with almost no fanfare or advertising, so it wasn’t that much of a surprise when Deadline broke the cancellation news not even two months later, on October 5.
And yet, to anyone who’d watched the show, news of the cancellation was a genuine shock. An effortlessly quirky, endearingly oddball series that ended up on Best of 2020 lists from critics at The New Yorker, The New York Times, Vulture, and more was being canceled. The cancellation notice offered no reason why the show would not be getting a second season. The whole situation feels a bit like “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Was it canceled because no one watched? Or did no one watch because Netflix didn’t promote it?
Sterling (Maddie Phillips) and Blair (Anjelica Bette Fellini) Wesley are the titular teenage bounty hunters, but their foray into the bounty hunting field is purely accidental. The fraternal twins borrow their dad’s (Mackenzie Astin) truck for a clandestine meet-up with their boyfriends in the parking lot of their Christian high school. On the way home, an erratic driver hits their truck. Not ones to turn down an opportunity to right some wrongs, the girls chase the driver and corner him. It turns out he’s trying to skip bail, so local Atlanta bounty hunter Bowser (Kadeem Hardison) is quick to find the girls. Since Sterling and Blair helped Bowser catch his skip, he begrudgingly agrees to take them on as apprentices so they can pay for the repairs for their dad’s truck.
Bowser, when not bounty hunting, runs a frozen yogurt shop called Yogurtopia. This is where Sterling and Blair’s parents think they work. In actuality, the twins are juggling a multitude of activities. Blair’s got lacrosse and soon-to-be boyfriend Miles (Myles Evans), while Sterling is elected Fellowship leader and is taking her relationship with boyfriend Luke (Spencer House) to the next level. In a way, Teenage Bounty Hunters is Sterling and Blair’s attempt to have it all in a horribly misguided teenage way.
Teenage Bounty Hunters is a charmingly chaotic mess. It’s a kind of an Odd Couple set-up, with the gruff Bowser putting up with Sterling and Blair’s mile-a-minute chatter while ultimately growing fond of the girls. It’s also part ’90s/early-aughts teen movie with the turbulent love lives of Sterling and Blair. And lastly, it’s part mystery as the girls realize they may not be the only people in their family with secrets.
In what is an ensemble show, it’s impossible to ignore the effervescent chemistry between Phillips and Fellini as the leads. Their sisterly bickering is so natural—a compliment to their performances and the writing. Few scripts understand the complexities of sibling relationships. It’s possible to express hate and love for your sister even within the same sentence, a balance that Teenage Bounty Hunters masters.
No disrespect, but Blair and Sterling are idiots. Between the two of them, they share one brain cell. A personal favorite is Sterling and Blair trying to figure out what amphetamines are. Blair’s sincere answer is “drugs that can go on land and water.” They treat bounty hunting with the same energetic enthusiasm they show for the people they have crushes on. It’s oddly endearing to watch Sterling and Blair gab about drama at school as they chase down a skip.
Teenage Bounty Hunters was only allowed one season, and it’s devastating given the cliffhanger ending. The final episode is bursting with so much potential that it could have fueled another season, if not more. There’s the revelation that Debbie (Virginia Williams) has a twin sister named Dana (also portrayed by Virginia Williams), and the fact that Sterling and Blair aren’t twins. It’s a catastrophic blow to the girls because of their (albeit somewhat unhealthy) codependent identities. They are so intrinsically tied together that this revelation is earth-shattering. Who are they if not the Wesley twins? Sure, they have their own interests and personalities, but at the end of the day, they delight in their identity as twins. Losing that facet of themselves would’ve been a fascinating angle to explore in the second season. How do they reconcile this new reality with the mostly picture-perfect family they had before?
There’s also the matter of April (Devon Hales). Sterling and Blair’s first officially sanctioned bounty hunting skip was April’s father, John (Pierce Lackey). While Sterling, Blair, and April were friends in elementary school, by the time the show starts April and Sterling are academic rivals. April and Sterling’s relationship shifts again after the two reconcile and romantic feelings develop between them. They begin a relationship in secret because April’s not ready to come out, and for a week they live in a blissful teenage love bubble. Then April’s dad is released from prison and her world falls apart.
When the season ends, April still doesn’t know that her kind-of girlfriend was responsible for putting her dad in jail. Teenage Bounty Hunters is an honest look at sexuality in a religious environment. April’s fears of coming out in the religious world they live in are worries that many young teens face. At every turn, though, the show supported Sterling and April in their self-discovery journeys and refuted the idea that it’s impossible to be queer and have faith in religion. In fact, the episode “Cleave or Whatever” has Sterling attempting to flirt with April using Biblical stories.
Sterling and April don’t end the season as a couple because of John’s release from prison. April is terrified about what John’s return means for her. Not only did she deserve to have an expanded character role in the second season, but the dynamic of the relationship after she learns that Sterling sent her dad to jail would have been interesting to watch unfold. Sterling learning the truth about her family, April’s father returning, and all the tangled ways their lives are intertwined are the trappings of a really great love story. It’s a shame they didn’t get to finish it.
It’s easy to dwell on what might have been and the future that will never be, but it’s also important to celebrate Teenage Bounty Hunters for what it was. The show manages to create a laugh-out-loud comedy that contains meaningful discussions about sexuality, racism, and religion that don’t sound like after-school specials. Its scripts weren’t performatively woke and the writing felt genuinely youthful. There’s nothing worse than the awkward dialogue that’s usually created when adults write for teens.
With a creative team that’s behind other Netflix powerhouses like GLOW and Orange Is the New Black, it’s not a surprise that Teenage Bounty Hunters manages to balance humor and depth. The show is unabashed in its goofiness and proudly wears its sincerity on its sleeve. Teenage Bounty Hunters may not have a second season on the horizon, but we’ll always have Yogurtopia.