The cheeky title for Lana Condor’s latest foray into Netflix’s glossy high school-set stable of shows tells you plenty. Boo, Bitch, after all, immediately calls to mind a specific tone. It’s sassy, yes. But familiar. Inviting. But maybe also cutting. There’s a meta-ness to it, too. You can almost hear the “boo” in quotation marks, getting at the supernatural aspect of this limited series. Condor’s Erika, after all, wakes up to learn that she’s apparently… died the night before? Crushed, it seems, from a moose who was hit by a car? She’s as confused as we are, especially since she doesn’t display any of the classic ghost tropes we’re all familiar with: She can’t walk through walls. Her best friend Gia (Zoe Colletti) can still see her, as can everyone else. But those are clearly her shoes buried under the moose. Convinced she has unfinished business, Erika decides to make the most of this odd second chance.
To be fair, she and Gia had already tried to make the most of their last two months as high school seniors. Having dutifully played the wallflowers for much of their time at school, the BFFs had decided to make up for lost time. That’s how they’d ended up drunkenly walking down a road in the middle of the night following a rager where Erika—long known as “Helen Who” following a Mean Girls-esque prank by the class’s queen bee years prior—had begun building herself a new reputation. Perhaps even a new life. “Helen Who must die so that Erika Wu can live!” as she’d put it. She just didn’t know the universe would take that so, well, literally.
Gia and Erika task themselves with trying to figure out who or what she is. Arguably, Erika is still in the physical world, able to hold conversations with the goth kids who run a supernatural interest group (they meet at the cemetery, naturally), eat slices of pizza while discussing purgatory with some devout school kids, and even pursue her dashing crush (Mason Versaw’s Jake C.) all while fearing she’s on borrowed time. As a metaphor for the baked-in nostalgia that senior year calls up (who have I become? who do I yet want to be?), Boo, Bitch feels thematically on point and Condor is charming as Erika, even as she’s initially called to play a character whose mantra is “Better to be unseen than seen.” Borrowing from the Buffy playbook, here is a supernatural narrative that hopes to illuminate a very ordinary plight: not just feeling unseen but feeling like no one might actually miss you if you just disappeared.
That’s where we begin. It’s what drives Gia and Erika to try all the new things (drinks! edibles! parties! beer pong!). And it’s also what ends up driving their desire to figure out what kind of ghost Erika truly is. The young girls naturally turn to pop culture for clues, digging into everything from Ghostbusters and Ghost to The Sixth Sense, and figure that Erika just has unfinished business in this world before she can depart in peace. Might it be her budding relationship with Jake C.? The choice to erase Helen Who from everyone’s memory? The commitment to make prom happen for Gia?
As every similarly cheekily titled episode suggests (“Life’s A Bitch And Then You Die,” “Bitch Slapped,” etc.), Boo, Bitch only incrementally clues us into what’s actually going on. Its plot moves at such a leisurely pace that a subplot about a rogue unclaimed fart from years ago takes up almost an entire episode (yes, really). Indeed, when Gia and Erika both cite the Patrick Swayze movie or call up M. Night Shyamalan’s twisty haunted thriller, you wonder why Erika’s story has been stretched into an eight-episode proposition when its narrative structure almost begs to be a quippy, breezy 90-minute flick that would play like Booksmart meets Ghost.
Instead, for every inspired moment that hopes to turn Boo, Bitch into a ’90s-esque comfort binge (most of them involving Condor and Colletti, who have great Buffy/Willow chemistry), there are as many unnecessary narrative detours to make this entire journey feel unable to sustain itself for episodes on end. This is because every one of its characters, rather than being fleshed out with every new plot point (or plot twist!), end up feeling stuck in one-note loglines that are so familiar they bypass being tropes (the Mean Girl who’s really insecure, the sweet popular boy with enviable hair, the kooky best friend) and end up, instead, as tired, well-worn clichés. And so, try as the very capable ensemble may, Boo, Bitch is much too slight for its own good. Which is a shame because its central premise (and celebration of female friendship) is a welcome riff on the ghost story genre.