It is a scary time to be creating television. This spring/summer season has been the epitome of 57 streaming platforms and nothing on. No show seems to be creating that much buzz. Not even series headlined by big-name stars (sorry The Terminal List). Not even returns of once-popular shows (apologies to you Westworld). Not even a new entry into the Star Wars mythology made much of a splash (sad face emoji to you and your scruffy beard, Obi-Wan Kenobi).
But the biggest misses might be shows aimed at teens. The CW just canceled Tom Swift. Despite being based on a series of popular novels, there’s not a lot of chatter about Amazon’s The Summer I Turned Pretty. How do you reach the target demographic who prefers their entertainment in Tik-Tok sized snippets? Boo, Bitch, on Netflix, is the latest series aiming to appeal to the ever-elusive adolescent.
Erika Vu (Lana Condor) and her best friend Gia (Zoe Colletti) have gone through high school being completely ignored. They’re not on the senior text chain. They haven’t gone to any of the parties. They don’t even know it’s school spirit day. “We’re finally leaving high school and all we have to show for it is our education,” Gia laments.
With months left until graduation, the friends decide to start living. They’ll go to prom. They’ll tell their crushes they like them. They’ll stop playing it safe. Unfortunately, life has other plans. After attending a senior class rager, Erika wakes up to discover she’s dead, her lifeless body decaying under a moose. And though she’s dead, everyone around her can still see her and talk to her. Erika and Gia decide Erika is still around because she has “UFB,” or unfinished business.
You see, talking in acronyms is a thing Erika and Gia do. “UUDDUGLL” Gia tells Erika while the words “Until you’re dead, dead. You’re gonna live life” go down the side of the screen. The show is also all about hashtags with things like #HowamIdeadandstillalive?” kicking off episodes.
Here’s the thing: Tone is such a hard thing to get right. Especially when it comes to satire. Go too far in one direction and the audience is left unable to care about any of the characters. Go too far in the other direction and the show may end up not being satire at all. That’s the crux of the problem facing Boo, Bitch. You can almost feel the show trying too hard to be of-the-moment trendy. Often it can feel like when your parents use a slang term that’s passé.
Too many of the jokes fall flat, like the recurring one about Alyssa (Alyssa Jirrels) who didn’t know she was pregnant and gave birth in a hot tub… which leads to eight episodes of “hot tub baby” jokes which aren’t funny in general, and seem particularly problematic given the current political climate. Erika’s parents, who desperately want to be the cool mom and dad, are a little much, too. “Blackouts are real which is why you need to stay hydrated when you drink and always make sure you go home with your panties on and in one piece,” Erika’s mother tells her when she’s hungover from a party.
Condor, who was so utterly charming in the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy, serves as an executive producer on the series. She’s charming here too and totally grounds Boo, Bitch from going too far off the rails. Colletti is also terrific as the best friend who just wants to see Erika be happy. But often it feels like they are in a completely different show from the rest of the characters.
So much of the series is derivative. Reminiscent of the iconic movie Heathers, their high school is populated with a number of boys named Jake. And of course, Erika has a long-standing crush on Jake C. (Mason Versaw). We’ve seen the central plot many times before in movies like Mean Girls and Clueless. As Erika steps farther and farther outside her comfort zone, she becomes more and more popular, aligning herself with the queen bee Riley (Aparna Brielle) and Riley’s minions Lea (Jami Alix) and Sophia (Brittany Bardwell). Eventually she becomes the name referenced in the show’s title, ignoring Gia completely. (The fact that almost none of the stars look young enough to actually be in high school is also a very familiar trope of teen TV.)
There’s a surprise twist which I won’t ruin but I also don’t think will be too hard for you to guess (it references another popular film). Showrunners Erin Ehrlichand and Lauren Iungerich count shows like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, On My Block, and Awkward between them. Alas Boo, Bitch fails to be as good as any of those series.
The bottom line? You may want to ghost Boo, Bitch.
All eight episodes of Boo, Bitch premiere Friday, July 8th on Netflix.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer and a member of the Television Critics Association. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.