Netflix's 'Boo, Bitch' Is a Love Letter to the Teen Genre
The limited series starring Lana Condor pulls from YA stories about mean girls and the supernatural.
When thinking about the themes of teen TV shows and movies, I can't help but think of the final speech that Drew Barrymore makes in Never Been Kissed. Yes, the 1999 movie is problematic (what with its plot about a young reporter undercover as a high schooler who falls for her teacher), but when Josie waits on the pitcher's mound to try to make amends with the man she wronged, she talks about growing up in a way that many of us know to be true. Of high school, she says, "There's still that one teacher who marches to her own drummer. Those girls are still there, the ones that, even as you grow up, will remain the most beautiful girls you have ever seen close up. … And there's still that one guy with his mysterious confidence, who seems so perfect in every way—the guy you get up and go to school for in the morning."
Ultimately, she says that high school never changes and that there's some universality to teenhood. Because we've all been 16 and experienced varying degrees of 16-year-old emotions, that's partially why we still latch onto YA entertainment, even long after we've graduated.
If you're confident that you could get an A+ in the history of teen cinema or are well-versed in the YA canon, you might find that Netflix's latest release is like a love letter to the genre. Boo, Bitch, which hits streaming today and is showrun by teen TV veterans Erin Ehrlich (Awkward., Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and Lauren Iungerich (Awkward., On My Block), is a limited series that pulls from many teen tropes—from mean girls to the supernatural—to create a delightful, bingeable watch.
Like Never Been Kissed, the eight-episode series is a story of nerd-girl-to-Queen-Bee transformation. Lana Condor of the To All the Boys… movies stars alongside Zoe Colletti as Erika and Gia (Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark), two loner BFFs who decide that they should attempt to put themselves out there so they don't graduate with regrets. After mustering up the courage to go to a party where Erika ends up being the MVP of the evening, their social butterfly dreams are quickly put to rest when the two get in a car crash that kills Erika… or rather, turns her into a ghost with unfinished business (aka more high school milestones to check off her teenage bucket list).
In many ways, Boo, Bitch feels like a loving callback to other iconic titles and themes. First and foremost, its entire premise of the heroine dying, only to end up stuck in a sort of in-between, has recently become somewhat of a classic YA plot. (See Netflix's 2021 movie Afterlife of the Party, the book-turned-Zoey-Deutch-movie Before I Fall, etc.) But because of that, the show then lends itself to touch on reference points like Teen Witch and Sabrina the Teenage Witch since ghosts, obviously, have supernatural powers.
What's the most fun about the comedy, though, is its take on popularity. While the popular kids in reality don't necessarily wear pink on Wednesdays, and mean girls can be anyone from your best friend to the homecoming queen, Boo, Bitch pulls from the teen genre tropes we've seen before with a nasty playfulness. As a ghost with nothing to lose, Erika becomes the bad bitch she never was when she was alive. So by Gen-Z standards, she's not just the most popular girl in school, she's also an influencer—but like Josie Nelson and Cady Heron of Mean Girls before her—a new attitude, boyfriend, and bestie, means losing herself with every post to the 'gram. But perhaps most of all, Boo, Bitch inspires notes of the 1999 cult film Jawbreaker, about an in-crowd who accidentally kills their friend and an awkward bystander who offers to keep her mouth shut in exchange for a makeover and a seat at the lunch table. While Boo, Bitch is not nearly as dark as Jawbreaker, there is a darkness to it. After all, a girl does die(!) and spends her soul's final moments on Earth trying to get other people to think she's cool, instead of with those who cared about her before she had 100k followers.
While the Netflix show certainly owes a lot to its predecessors, that's not to say that it doesn't stand on its own. In fact, it has its own colorful splashiness and Gen-Z quirk (even if it's heavy on the cheese), and both of the leads are ones-to-watch. There is a certain appeal about how teen TV it is, though. There's simply a comfort in the familiar and seeing young people come into their own, like Drew Barrymore more or less proclaims in the '90s teen classic. Few may want to relive being a teenager again, but at least there's shows like Boo, Bitch that helps to keep alive our affinity for coming-of-age stories.