On the surface My Dad the Bounty Hunter is a typical fun kid-friendly animated adventure series. Venture a little deeper and it becomes apparent that this is a space story grounded in a family dynamic that will resonate with all ages.
Terry (Laz Alonso) is a galactic bounty hunter named Sabo Brok who takes on jobs from some bad dudes. He does it to support his two kids Lisa (Priah Ferguson) and Sean (JeCobi Swain). Unfortunately, being away from home so much meant not being there for them the way he would have wanted and ultimately caused a separation from his wife Tess (Yvonne Orji).
From creators and executive producers Everett Downing (Hair Love) and Patrick Harpin (Hotel Transylvania 2), the Netflix show really picks up when Lisa and Sean sneak aboard Terry’s ship and find out quickly what their father really does for a living. Talk about an epic future Career Day presentation! From there, the three embark on an out-of-this-world journey they’ll never forget. Rounding out the cast are Yvette Nicole Brown, Leslie Uggams, Rob Riggle, Jim Rash, and Jamie Chung.
We caught up with Downing and Harpin to talk about inspiration, casting, Black representation, and the future of the series.
How did the concept for the show come together?
Everett Downing: When Patrick and I met, it was at the Sony Pictures Animation Studio. We were talking about the kind of movies we wanted to do. I was expressing how much I would love to do a narrative with a Black family at the center as a love letter to my family.
Patrick Harpin: Ev was coming at it from the parent POV whereas I was coming from the kids’ POV because my sister and I would always try to go to work with my dad in his work van. Sometimes he would be like. “We don’t have money for a babysitter, so let’s roll with me for the day.” We loved it. He worked at the local TV station. He got to shoot those crazy local ads. [Everett and I] talked about our shared experiences and what we miss. We were talking about how real a lot of those ‘80s sci-fi movies were where it was like Last Star Fighter with kids living in a trailer park. Or E.T. where mom was talking about dad skipping town. There was a refreshingly real treatment of families back in the day. We really missed that and wanted to bring it up today.
The quality of the animation is incredible. What made you decide to jump from one form of animation to another through flashbacks?
Patrick: We wanted to do 2D. It’s our first love. It actually made sense money-wise because we didn’t have to make CG Los Angeles. We wouldn’t have to build all those sets. It was something that worked artistically and financially to separate the present from the past. Here you are using 2D animation to literally break the audience’s timeline.
How was the casting process?
Everett: Casting was super important for us because we knew we really wanted people to fall in love with this family. The dad had to be very particular. It had to be a guy who could walk the line from tough, baddest bounty hunter in the galaxy to loving dad to Sabo dad. For us, we had our wishlist of who we wanted to get. I knew I wanted Priah. From the first time I heard her on Stranger Things where she says, “You can’t spell America without Erica.” There were so many surprises. People we didn’t think we would be able to get, we landed and are super grateful for.
Who are some?
Patrick: Rob Riggle was one. Yvonne was another long shot. Everyone.
Everett: Laz was a big one. A huge long shot came through.
Patrick: Jecobi, we just heard his audition. He was just so good.
Everett: Such an endearing voice. From the first time, I loved him. He was that strong.
Did the cast work together during recording sessions?
Patrick: That was kind of tough because of COVID. We would have liked to have everyone together. Though some people who have seen it so far thought everyone was doing it together, which we are like thank you. I think that came from us saying, “This is how Laz played it, so that’s the level of energy you’re at.” And then it could work vice-versa. It was a little extra work, but I think we pulled it off.
This family is not perfect. The dad is struggling with wanting to support his family in a unique and dangerous line of work, but at what cost? The kids are struggling with why mom and dad can’t be together. You touch on some very heavy topics.
Everett: One of the very important things for us is we didn’t want to dumb anything down.
Patrick: For me, it was if I were to do something in the kids’ space, I didn’t want it to be dumbed down. These kids have to talk like real kids. The same for the parents. Netflix let us do that. It was the goal early on. I think kids are a lot smarter than people give them credit for. I remember what it felt like when we were kids watching stuff. You know when a show is talking down to you. I think that was our mission. It was a push and pull where kids have to be in but you can go a little bit above them.
Everett: Our biggest thing was does this feel true? Does it feel honest? If it felt out of place or maybe came off as fake emotions, we would just avoid it.
Patrick: I also think perfect families are boring. My family is not perfect. Nobody’s family is perfect. To me, that’s boring storytelling. If you want to humanize people, give them flaws.
Everett: That’s what people relate to. When you can see them too.
Everett, you spoke about wanting to bring forth a Black family in this space and putting them at the forefront. What does it mean to see this vision realized? Is it even more special knowing the show is released during Black History Month?
It feels surreal to see this project we all worked so hard on actually live, especially during Black History Month. It makes me feel a certain way. For me, it’s so important for us to see audiences reflected onscreen. We can be these heroic figures and have something to aspire to. Beyond that, I love the opportunity to invite all different types of people. Where it’s, hey, spend some time with this family. We’re going to go on this adventure with who just happens to be this Black family. Where you may realize you have more in common with this family than you thought.
How did the idea for what the alien creatures look like the Chilla, Vax (Jamie Chung), or the Glorox (Rob Riggle) come together?
Patrick: We were trying to veer away from what we were seeing from sci-fi at the moment. Let’s go a little more playful. Let’s go a little more Fifth Element and Flash Gordon. Let’s bring back that playful chaos because sci-fi had gotten so serious. Desaturated colors for the most part. We wanted to do the opposite of what everyone else was doing. Even with the Chillas where here are the characters you think are here to sell toys, and we’re going to play with that idea.
If there is a season 2, what kind of story do you want to tell?
Everett: I think we would want to focus on mom. Give her a shot in the captain’s seat.
Patrick: We are being purposely cagey here. Stay tuned.
My Dad the Bounty Hunter, Series Premiere, February 9, Netflix