Teenage Bounty Hunters, on Netflix, is an unexpected gem, and a fresh take on the teen caper

Anjelica Bette Fellini, Kadeem Hardison and Maddie Phillips in Teenage Bounty Hunters. Picture: Netflix
Anjelica Bette Fellini, Kadeem Hardison and Maddie Phillips in Teenage Bounty Hunters. Picture: Netflix

Teenage Bounty Hunters (MA)

4 stars

Cinema's dry-run of re-opening in a COVID world has been a moderate success, with audience confidence propped up with cleaning regimes and distanced seating.

(Which I love frankly. I hated sitting next to people I don't know, and nothing was more annoying than cinema online booking systems forcing you to take a seat next to someone and for you to then discover that you were the only two someones in the place).

A handful of smaller films mostly local Aussie films took the risk of the being the first to re-open the box office, and it has paid off for some.

Russell Crowe's Unhinged is enjoying its third week in the number on spot, and The Invisible Man enjoyed two bites of the cherry, topping the box office in March on its original release, and again for a few weeks in July.

With confidence partially restored, Hollywood prepares to take the plunge, with Christopher Nolan's Tenet opening on the 27th, followed by The New Mutants and Bill and Ted Face the Music.

Probably in anticipation of throwing Tenet up on most of their screens next week, only a small handful of films hit cinemas this week, and so I look to the small screen for something to cast my critical eye upon.

What an unexpected gem I find in the new Netflix series Teenage Bounty Hunters.

The series is a pastiche of a dozen different genres which ought to be too much but strangely works thanks to fresh writing and considered character development.

Mostly, though, it works for me because it feels like a great episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer crossed with Clueless.

Mid-teen-aged twins Blair (Anjelica Bette Fellini) and Sterling (Maddie Phillips) attend a very Christian private school where they both academically excel, and where Sterling has just been nominated as a leader of their faith group.

The girls have matching pretty-boy boyfriends in Jennings (Nicholas Cirillo) and Luke (Spencer House).

At home, a comfortable monied Southern home of guns, country clubs and granddaddy's family business, are their still-young and loving mother Debbie (Virginia Williams) and dad Anderson (Mackenzie Astin).

Into this safe existence comes adventure and the chance for some personal growth when the twins get mistaken by bounty hunter Bowser (Kadeem Hardison) for fellow professionals when the girls' natural athletic ability and handy gun work helps him nab a fleeing "skip".

As the girls have just crashed their father's car and need money to get it repaired before dad discovers it, they play along with the pretence they are both older, and professional bounty hunters, convincing Bowser to split the finder's fee.

It doesn't take long before Bowser works out the girls are mere teens, but he takes them under his wing, with a job at his frozen yoghurt franchise as a cover for the girls to also take on an apprenticeship in the felony-catching game.

The teen bounty hunter pretence is only part of the story here, with sub-plots including sibling love-rivalry, the girls' love lives, Bowser's mid-life career and love frustrations, and the challenges of school, family and God.

I make a point of singling God out as both character and story-line here.

It's rare to find a series this current and whip-smart that takes its characters' faith as a positive, not undermined or made fun of, but still allowing some terrific jokes and running gags to play around it.

Across the 10-episode first season, a number of the peripheral characters that seem thinly drawn in earlier episodes each get deeper arcs.

Enjoyable among these are teen bitch April (Devon Hales), the Regina George of the series, Sterling's serious but then abandoned boyfriend Luke, and teacher Ellen (Wynn Everett).

The show owes a debt to many teen films and television that came before it, but writer-producer Kathleen Jordan has taken some of the best from them all.

Like Buffy, it mixes teen angst and goofiness with high-stakes seriousness, and like Mean Girls it finds relatable comedy in familiar characters without making the characters themselves jokes.

As bounty hunter Bowser, it is great to see Kadeem Hardison on the small screen again. Folk my age might remember the Cosby Show spin-off series A Different World that saw Lisa Bonet's Denise Huxtable in her first year at college, and as a lanky post-teen in Fresh Prince costuming, Hardison's Dwayne Wayne was the series stand-out.

Three decades later, he is physically unrecognisable with the comic timing is still in place, a warm Giles-like father-figure to Fellini and Phillips's engaging teenage twins.

Behind the camera are a raft of big names, including Orange is the New Black and Weeds series creator Jenji Kohan.

This story An unexpected teen comedy gem first appeared on The Canberra Times.