Flight of the Navigator, Star Wars, E.T. — some of the best cinematic moments of my youth, and likely yours if you’re reading this — came courtesy of epic sci-fi adventures. And we millennials are nothing if not nostalgic. We’re always looking for shows or films that capture some piece of our past. The trick? Finding ones our kids will like, too. Well, say hello to Netflix’s new animated series My Dad The Bounty Hunter.
The premise: Close-knit siblings Lisa and Sean stow away on their dad’s latest work trip, hoping to corner him into some overdue quality time together. They get a big shock, though, when they discover their dad is the galaxy’s toughest bounty hunter. Family bonding takes an intergalactic turn when the trio must face everything from aliens to laser fights together.
It’s not lost on Laz Alonso, who voices dad Terry, how the series channels the space adventure vibes from our childhoods — or how meaningful it is that he gets to play a role in bringing an epic outer space adventure to Netflix that centers a Black family.
“For me as a child, I grew up on Star Wars and Star Trek. We had to imagine Black folks in outer space. We only had two back in the day, which was great because those two actors really made me believe that we could one day be in that genre. But we just didn’t see it,” he tells me. “So, it feels great to be in a time right now where representation is happening not just in front of the cameras, but also behind the cameras, in writers’ rooms, creating the opportunities for people like Yvonne [Orji] and myself to play in the genre.”
Orji agrees, saying, “Representation is huge … Kids are so impressionable, and once you expose them to the possibilities, their world ultimately enlarges. To have the real-life version of Sean looking and seeing this — there’s going to be a little boy that’s going to grow up to be a sci-fi writer, or a sci-fi actor, or someone who creates animation. Whatever it is, we’re giving people a chance to see possibilities.”
For co-creators Everett Downing and Patrick Harpin, self-professed “sci-fi heads,” they’re happy to help expand the circle of next-gen sci-fi fans. But aside from the futuristic setting and flashy outer space sequences (not to mention Easter eggs nodding to classics like Aliens and Predator), Downing and Harpin made sure the show was grounded in modern family dynamics.
Harpin drew on his childhood, when he and his sister tagged along with their dad to work on the days they didn’t have money for a babysitter. Downing drew from his own experience as a parent.
“I was working a lot because animation is very demanding, and when you’re working as a story artist, it’s just very dedicated work,” he explains. “I was just lamenting; my daughters were at this age where there was a lot of development, and I wasn’t always there for it. I was starting to feel like I was losing connection with the kids. And I just thought, ‘Oh man, that’s a really powerful point of view. I really kind of want to talk about this.’”
Thus, loving but aloof dad Terry came to be — often away on long work trips, focused on doing what it takes to pay the bills, not realizing the thing his kids need most is just for him to show up for them. It’s a pull many parents will relate to, just as many will surely see some version of themselves in Tess, the patient and pragmatic wife trying to hold things together while Terry spends so much time working.
The fact that Terry and Tess have recently separated is another reflection of real life that Downing and Harpin felt needed to be seen on screen.
“The parents, because of their circumstances, have kind of gone in separate directions, but they still love each other. They still love the kids, and they want the best for the kids. We really wanted to show that because you don’t see a lot of that in animation. And we felt like if we showed this, a lot of kids would feel see and be able to relate to the situation, which is super important,” says Downing.
Of course, as a parent, you’ll appreciate those things when you’re watching and understand how impactful they are. But your kids? They’re just going to love the idea of two kids who look like them or act like them meeting aliens in outer space.
Lisa is “a hustler” and “very smart, witty, quick on her feet,” says Priah Ferguson (Stranger Things’ Erica), who voices the teen. As for younger brother Sean, his offscreen alter ego JeCobi Swain describes him as a “happy-go-lucky kid” who is “all over the place.”
Not surprisingly, when asked if they’d be game to bring My Dad The Bounty Hunter to the big screen in a live-action adaptation one day, both Ferguson and Swain responded with an enthusiastic yes.
The same goes for “mom and dad” Orji and Alonso.
“I mean, I’m working out now just to try to get to Laz’s level of fighting, so sure,” Orji jokes. Echoes Alonso, “Netflix, let’s make it happen. My Dad The Bounty Hunter, the live-action film.”