“Apparently that was all just locker room talk!” Franklin (Jacob Rhodes) screams in exasperation in the third episode of Netflix’s new genre-bending YA adventure Teenage Bounty Hunters. Franklin isn’t upset at the target of his ire, lovable lunk/golf captain Luke Creswell (Spencer House), because he fabricated an explicit hookup with his popular girlfriend Sterling Wesley (Maddie Phillips) — which are traditionally the kind of skeezy conversations we’re used to witnessing in teen pop culture.
Franklin is devastated precisely because Luke and Sterling did have sex, despite their very public devotion to their Atlanta high school’s strict Christian faith. The language is so pointed, it’s difficult not to wonder if Franklin’s words were lifted right out of a true conversation.
“The sex-negative attitude of the high school, Willingham, is based on my own high school,” Teenage Bounty Hunters creator and Atlanta native Kathleen Jordan told Refinery29 on the phone, emphasizing how important the scene is to the “ethos” of her series. “It was cool to be a Christian and cool to be a model citizen — that wasn't a bad thing.”
Yet, that positive support had a catch in Jordan’s experience. “With that came a kind of implicit condemnation of teenage sexuality,” Jordan — who really does love heavy metal band Lamb of God like Bounty’s Blair Wesley (Anjelica Bette Fellini) — explained. “Having so many friends who were both Christian people and sexually active, I wanted to show that's possible and that's real. That being religious or moral and being sexual are not mutually exclusive.”
The connection between Teenage Bounty Hunters and Jordan’s real-life history doesn’t end with Franklin’s little locker room meltdown. Keep reading to find out the inside story behind Blair’s BTS poster, if bounty hunter YouTube really inspired TBH — and whether Kathleen Jordan spent her junior year of high school bounty hunting like Sterling and Blair.
Refinery29: I obviously have to ask: Are you a bounty hunter personally?
Kathleen Jordan, laughing: “I am not personally a bounty hunter. But I wrote the show and it's kind of like a wish fulfillment — how I wish I had acted when I was a teenager in my own preppy Christian high school ... I grew up in a really conservative part of Atlanta called Buckhead. I always kind of felt like I didn't quite belong.
“So no, I'm not a bounty hunter. But maybe I have some kind of badass bounty hunter energy in my soul.”
Did anything inspire you beyond that wish fulfillment, like bounty hunter YouTube videos or reality shows, which are such a big part of the show?
“There are a lot of bounty hunter YouTubers that actually… it turns out that it's all staged.”
“Contrary to my experience, I wanted our characters to live in a world where sexuality for teenage girls could be honest and fun and pleasurable.”
Do you think you are more of a Blair or a Sterling?
“I would say that Blair and Sterling, they live out a lot of my teenage vulnerabilities. But also, Blair's aesthetic and music tastes are ripped from the headlines of my teenage life. I will say she makes Docs and plaid look way cooler than I ever did.”
Are there any Blair-Kathleen connections we should be on the lookout for?
“We dressed Blair's room to feel really similar to my high school room and the production design team did such an amazing job. We put up a B*Witched poster. And then I'm in there and I'm like, ‘This is a little anachronistic. How would Blair possibly know about the band B*Witched?’ So instead we put up a BTS poster.
“It's good to have the young people fill me in on what's cool. It was one of our younger writers that helped us write that, honestly.”
Did you pour in anything else from your high school experience?
“One thing that I really wanted to be kind of a cornerstone of this show is positive female sexuality in teenagers. I feel like we see so many representations of male pleasure in the media and female pleasure is often respondent, it's a side effect of the situation. As a teenager, I wish that I had seen young women actively exploring their sexuality on TV or in books, really anywhere. I feel like those stories were out of my reach.
“Contrary to my experience, I wanted our characters to live in a world where sexuality for teenage girls could be honest and fun and pleasurable. They obviously run into challenges when it comes to their sexuality, but they also get to be in control and be at the center of the story.”
Is that why you open the show with evidence that the Bible could be seen as equally pro-teen sex as it is anti-premarital sex?
“Most American teenagers are religious and most American teenagers are sexual, but we don't often see how those things intersect. Coming from a very religious community, I wanted to explore the intersection of those two ideas.”
There are so many funny screenshots during the condom rumor kerfuffle in “This Must Be How Dumb People Feel.” Did you feel that paranoia and deep misinformation about sex ed was something you saw a lot in your high school?
“Oh, certainly. Yes. I went to a great school, but I wouldn't recommend their sex education curriculum to a modern teenager.”
How did you manage to satirize Bible Belt culture and point out your issues with it without coming off as mean?
“We didn't have any desire to take down or make digs at Christianity. Diversity in our writers room is important. One element of diversity that was important to me was having a practicing Christian in the room because we wanted to be kind of agnostic towards religion in general and look at it from both sides.”
You also tackle conversations around gun ownership and hunting in a really nuanced way. Why was that so necessary to you?
“We didn't have any interest in sanitizing the way that the South really is. In the way that there are people that don't react positively to some of the sexuality of the show, we didn't have any interest in not having guns because Southern people have guns. While we knew it was a choice to have guns in the show, we feel like a show starring boys probably wouldn't get pushed back on [that subject]. We see guys firing guns in every single show and no one really raises an eyebrow.
It's also kind of an allegory for their badassness.”