Based on a true story, and following a two-hour telefilm that aired in March, USA’s newest series “The Huntress” hasn’t quite figured out its identity. With a mother-daughter bounty-hunting team at its center, the show’s initial series episode bounds between self-referential comedy and character-driven drama, with brief interludes of mundane, pseudo-serious action. To become more than middling in tone and entertainment value, the show will need to let loose its based-on-fact restraints and allow the punches and punch lines to flow with greater freedom.
Annette O’Toole stars as Dottie Thorson, anxious widow of a slain bounty hunter who left his wife and 19-year-old daughter Brandi in serious debt. In the telefilm, mother and daughter tested the waters of the “bail-enforcement” profession and landed a big fish named Tiny Bellows (James Remar), a killer with a heart of gold, who continues in the series from behind bars as Dottie’s confidant and romantic interest.
In this first episode, faced with mounting creditors and a broken fridge, Dottie once again allows Brandi (recast from the telefilm version with a spunky Jordana Spiro) to draw her back into bounty hunting. They demonstrate their talent for the job by tracking down Tommy Van Slyke (a guest stint from Gary Busey), much to the surprise of the skeptical, chauvinist bondsman Ricky Guzman (Luis Antonio Ramos) and to the chagrin of rival bounty hunter Claude St. Claire (Granville Ames).
There are some predictable twists and turns along the way, but the sparse action plotting takes a back seat to the character development. Dottie is still weepy over her husband’s death, and needs to let out some of her latent anger; the rebellious, resilient Brandi, on the other hand, could use a good cry. Both are still coming to terms with their loss.
There’s a potentially campy dichotomy in emotional introspection and the seediness of bounty hunting, but writer and executive producer Pamela Norris seems uneasy letting things go too far in that direction.
Norris hasn’t quite found an angle on the mother-daughter relationship that would give “The Huntress” the kind of ongoing conflict — and spark — it needs. And while both performers are adequate, there’s not much chemistry between O’Toole and Spiro. There are some hints that the series might define the roles more strongly and move the show in a clearer, action-oriented direction — there’s a reference, for example, to Brandi’s knowledge of karate. Certainly, this tepid show could use a few more kicks.