I grew up on classic American teenage dramas — Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, The OC, 90210. I watched all six seasons of Glee and still remember Serena van der Woodsen’s middle name — it’s Celia, in case you're wondering. So, when Netflix released its new original series Teenage Bounty Hunters, I couldn’t help but press play.
The show centers around fraternal twins, Sterling and Blair Wesley, who accidentally team up with a veteran bounty hunter and start chasing criminals around their hometown of Savannah, Georgia. In addition to this new part-time gig, the girls navigate high-strung mothers, oblivious boyfriends and outdated religious expectations.
While I appreciated the more action-based plot — who doesn’t love watching badass women hunt down criminals — the subplots and their surprisingly mature themes carried the show.
From the first episode, Sterling struggles with feelings of religious guilt. As the less outwardly rebellious twin, she takes on added pressure from her family and even herself to present as a charming, well-behaved Southern girl. In comparison, Blair wears combat boots, listens to heavy metal and argues over politics with her grandparents, automatically making her stand out among her peers. However, after Sterling has sex with her long-term boyfriend, Luke, she feels ashamed and hypocritical. At the time, she justifies the sex by quoting John 3:16, which states that whoever believes in God will earn eternal life, citing herself as a good Christian. But the next day, her negative feelings escalate when her teacher elects her as the fellowship student leader, a position that requires her to give devotional readings on topics, including abstinence. While Sterling eventually realizes that having consensual sex with her boyfriend isn’t a sin, the journey highlights the difficulties many teenagers face when their personal beliefs do not align with their religious upbringings.
Teenage shows often depict faith and liberal political views as mutually exclusive. But the Wesley sisters do not question whether they believe in climate change or support LGBTQ+ rights because some of their Christian, conservative relatives and neighbors disagree. To them, Christianity represents honesty, kindness and respect. It represents grappling with a difficult decision and choosing the moral answer. I see this when Sterling tells her classmates the mysterious condom wrapper is hers and not April’s, when Blair apologizes after sabotaging her date with Miles and when they turn in bail jumpers despite the culprit being a family friend.
If you’re worried that the show is just ten episodes of life lessons, that’s not the case — Sterling and Blair’s constant, playful bickering and telepathic communication balances out the heavier themes.
Two-thirds of the way through the season, the show surprised me again with another storyline. After breaking up with Luke, Sterling attends a debate competition where she realizes she has a crush on someone new: April Stevens. With the new goal of grabbing her crush’s attention, Sterling partners up with April for a school project. In a moment of passion after earning an A+, Sterling kisses April, and the pairing starts a secret fling.
Rarely on television do I see queer representation, especially femme queer representation, and even less frequently do I see a queer storyline that doesn’t revolve around the coming out process. While the show does address the hardships of LGBTQ+ relationships in a heteronormative society, Sterling and April’s love story is less about being queer and more about navigating romantic relationships in high school. Sterling’s unwillingness to tell Blair about her new relationship doesn’t stem from fear of coming out but rather Blair’s dislike of April. The show's commentary on labels also makes an important point. During their date, April asks, “Did you tell anyone about us? That we’re gay?” Sterling responds, “We are?” and says she just knows she likes boys and girls and likes-likes April. Their conversation rejects the pressure teenagers often feel to label their sexualities for other people's ease and instead normalizes sexual fluidity along with the confusion that sometimes arises during sexual discovery.
As a Catholic lesbian with liberal political views, perhaps I could connect to the show on a more personal level than most people. Yet, an American teen drama that discusses religion, sexuality, race, and politics while promoting strong crime-fighting girls is hard to come by. I encourage you to support this show and others like it to encourage the inclusion and skilled execution of these themes in other television series.