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sterling and blair wesley practicing being bounty hunters by using a blowdryer as a gun Image: Netflix

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Netflix’s Teenage Bounty Hunters is a raunchy comedy drama slapstick thriller satire that works

The new show from Orange Is the New Black’s Jenji Kohan hits every genre

Petrana Radulovic is an entertainment reporter specializing in animation, fandom culture, theme parks, Disney, and young adult fantasy franchises.

Within the first 15 minutes, Netflix’s new series Teenage Bounty Hunters delivers on its premise: there are teenagers, and they’re quickly mistaken for bounty hunters. From then on, the series kicks everything off with a frenzied, pixie-stick-fueled energy and never really lets go till the final moment, ricocheting from comedy to drama to coming-of-age story to thriller without any hesitation at all.

Teenage Bounty Hunters, from showrunner Kathleen Jordan and executive produced by Orange is the New Black producer Jenji Kohan, includes 10 genres at once, but the creators manage to pull it all off by rooting the story in likeable, genuine characters. The series follows a pair of twins, good Christian girl Sterling (Maddie Phillips) and rebellious individualist Blair (Anjelica Bette Fellini), at their elite private school in Atlanta, as they take up a part-time gig bounty hunting with gruff bail agent Bowser (Kadeem Hardison).

One moment it’s a slapstick comedy, as Blair jumps onto a car’s hood, clinging for dear life. Then it’s a family drama, as Sterling has a heart-to-heart about her mom when a rumor comes to light. Then it’s back to crime procedural, as Bowser and the girls pinpoint the motel where a skip is hiding out. Then it’s a raunchy teen comedy, as Blair tells Sterling in detail how she lost her virginity. The show’s partially a satire of rich Southern religious life, partially a thriller, as the girls discover secrets about their mom’s past, and partially a sweet coming-of-age story, as they navigate the perils of high school.

sterling and blair holding bibles Photo: Tina Rowden Netflix

The series wouldn’t be as strong if Blair and Sterling weren’t so dynamic. Both sisters are fully fleshed-out individuals with specific quirks and drives, and personalities that take an active role in the plot. Blair is gung-ho, always ready to jump in without a concrete plan, which doesn’t always play out well in the world of bounty hunting — or when balancing her secret double life with a new boyfriend. Sterling, meanwhile, tends to be a bit of a pushover, so her story revolves around her getting the courage to go after what she wants.

Phillips and Fellini have a natural chemistry, so when the sisters launch into long tangents, bouncing off each other to ramble about inside jokes and stories only they know, it feels realistic, a sisters-only bubble impenetrable to outsiders. The tangents themselves are funny, but everyone’s puzzled reactions to their little bubble seal the deal — anyone with a sister knows that communicating without really saying anything is a hallmark of a close relationship.

It’d be easy to paint one or the other sister in a more antagonistic role, whether through religious good girl Sterling being too prissy or rebellious Blair being too forceful. But they both essential to the story, given positive and negative traits, and are just hilarious, together or separately. Jordan offsets the more outlandish aspects of their bounty-hunting life with realistic relationships and teenage problems.

For every moment where they’re chasing a skip through a nursing home, the girls manage complicated romances, explore their sexualities, and deal with judgment from their peers and parents’ friends. These moments have their own humor, and the bounty-hunting activities aren’t devoid of gravitas, but Jordan and the writing team understand that for every unrealistic wild goose chase down the Georgia highway, there needs to be a moment grounded in just being a teenager, so the series doesn’t wildly spiral.

sterling and blair in yogurt shop uniforms, bowser behind them Image: Netflix

While Jordan certainly plays some of Blair and Sterling’s teenage interests (like TikTok or BTS) for comedy, the show never feels like it’s cruel toward them, or toward out-of-touch older characters like Bowser. The way Jordan handles religion specifically is a testament to this attitude of making fun of something without being mean-spirited. Teenage Bounty Hunters interrogates some sillier aspects of modern religion, from parents worrying about the 1999 animated flick Prince of Egypt being too racy to watch during lock-in to a traveling salesman touting Cain and Abel sibling necklaces. But the show doesn’t mock Sterling’s faith, and it gives characters room to speak candidly and warmly about their relationship to religion. It’s a rare loving dig at Christianity in the South, where the criticism is based on outward and outdated flaws, not any character’s personal connection to religion.

Teenage Bounty Hunters’ episodes do tend to drag along, especially for a comedy. Each of the first season’s 10 episodes is about 50 minutes, but some scenes feel prolonged to fill that time, seperate from where the main action is taking place. While some episodes fully intertwine Sterling and Blair’s day-to-day existence with their secret double life — like when Sterling has an epiphany about one of their skips after getting drunk at a college party — others seem disjointed, especially episodes where Bowser goes off and does his own thing without either of the girls.

But in spite of the lulls, when the show works, it’s vibrant and hilarious, full of emotional punches, laugh-out-loud moments, and thrilling surprises. It’s commendable that this show does so much: It looks inward at navigating tricky adolescent relationships, paints a hilarious caricature of the Southern elite, weaves in an overarching mystery from the very first episode, and still imbues its lead characters with depth. There’s so much going on in this show and yet almost every moment pushes the genre blend to reach its full comedic, emotional, or dramatic potential. It’s the best coming-of-age teen comedy / religious satire / family drama / nail-biting crime-procedural mystery out there.

Teenage Bounty Hunters is available to stream on Netflix now.