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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Adrian Horton

Boo, Bitch review – supernatural Netflix teen sitcom goes off the rails

Zoe Margaret Colletti and Lana Condor.
Zoe Margaret Colletti and Lana Condor. Photograph: Kevin Estrada/Netflix

Boo, Bitch, a sometimes sharp yet mostly uneven eight-part limited series from Netflix, appeals to a beloved and oft under-rated tradition: the sitcom in which supernatural elements (time travel, foresight, magic powers) underscore the trials of being a teenage girl. Lana Condor’s Erika Vu, a shy, studious senior rendered a ghost after getting smushed by a moose on the night of her first high school party, takes after playfully occult protagonists in irreverent shows such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Wizards of Waverly Place, That’s So Raven and, more seriously and successfully, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The show’s candy-colored aesthetic and caffeinated energy reminds me of Nickelodeon’s Zoey 101; the costumes look like a gleefully unhinged take on mid-aughts TV teen fashion.

It’s all light and more fun than you might expect, until it isn’t. Created by Tim Schauer, Kuba Soltysiak, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Erin Ehrlich and Awkward’s Lauren Iungerich, Boo, Bitch straddles the fine line between campy and hokey, deliciously ridiculous and dumb, cheeky and cringe before the second half derails into borderline unwatchable, cheap nonsense. (The title is a cute-ish wink until it becomes an overused refrain in the final episodes.) That Boo, Bitch holds the center at all for five 25-minute episodes is largely thanks to the commitment of Condor, Netflix’s immensely likable homegrown star of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, and Zoe Margaret Colletti as her kooky, loyal best friend Gia.

We meet Erika and Gia 48 hours “pre-mortem”, on the precipice of their final six weeks of high school. The inseparable duo are so invisible that they’re not included on the senior text chain, so boring that Erika’s parents (Cathy Vu and John Brantley Cole) sigh in relief when she says they’re going to party. In one of the better high school party scenes I’ve seen in awhile, the duo agree to give risk a chance and say yes to everything. There’s car headlights, a scream, and the next morning, Erika awakes to find herself a functional ghost.

Boo, Bitch initially takes a pleasantly gonzo spin on the afterlife – “If a ghost in Ghostbusters can give a BJ then it makes sense that you can still pee,” Gia comforts Erika on her first confused morning post-mortem; Erika later laments that completing one’s unfinished business might be a good time to finally try Wellbutrin. Neurotic, obsessive and hiding her condition, Erika has bigger priorities than being dead: namely, stealing her crush Jake C (Mason Versaw) from consummate mean girl Riley (Aparna Brielle), going to prom, and finally getting attention. In her terms: “Till I figure out my unfinished business, I’m going to get down to business.” (Again, the line between hokey and camp is hard to parse.)

The handling of Erika’s high school purgatory is, for the first half of the series, surprisingly lighthearted and just enough weird. Erika can flicker lights and scramble screens, but still has to pee and go to school. Even her goodbyes to her parents and brother, before she (might) ascend by kissing Jake C, are played for laughs, given the same weight as, say, her final mochaccino with Gia. In order to fulfill Erika’s presumed unfinished business, the girls throw a party. In search of any helpful info beyond The Sixth Sense and Patrick Swayze in Ghost, the two enlist a student supernatural club, whose medium, Gavin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) takes a rare interest in Gia. The gleefully bonkers quartet, including wannabe magician Brad (Reid Miller) and psychic Raven (Abigail Achiri), are the funniest part of the show – I laughed at a good third of their lines.

Some bits grow stale quickly, such as running gags about a long-bullied student framed for a fart in third grade or a classmate who unexpectedly gave birth in a hot tub. Others – Gia’s repeated cracks about Lexapro, or a conversation between the boys about chill v cool girls, frequent swearing – give the show temporary, welcome bite.

Unfortunately, the heady buzz of this ridiculousness burns off in the second half, which introduces a deflating plot twist, poorly invokes a cringy charade of TikTok fandom, and turns Erika into a power-hungry monster. Condor is an appealing actor who seems to relish the 180 – she can pull off the role of stone-faced high school villain – but even she can’t compensate for the show’s abrupt heel turn, nonsensical plot (even for a story about a ghost) and very loose handling of grief. By the sixth episode, I already missed the innocence of watching the first 30 minutes and not knowing how annoyingly, unnecessarily mean Erika would become.

Boo, Bitch doesn’t recover from this nose dive. The final two episodes demand that the audience acknowledge the death of a loved one – ghosts can’t stick around forever, after all – but not care enough to actually think about what that means nor tease it out for anything beyond a quick resolution. It’s a disappointing, scrambled finish that left a sour taste in my mouth. Supernatural teen shenanigans can be fun, but not when it loses the heart.

  • Boo, Bitch is now available on Netflix

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