Written by Erin Tatum.
At a time when it feels like an alarming number of people would happily turn back the social clock 50 years (or 200), it’s nice to have a lighthearted beacon of hope in our perpetually apocalyptic media shitstorm. The Bold Type has emerged as an unexpectedly poignant tonic to… well, almost everything else that’s made headlines this summer.
With my 26th birthday around the corner, I admittedly felt I was getting a little long in the teeth for Freeform (formerly ABC Family). I can no longer watch frothy high school soaps without feeling like a disapproving PTA mom, even if the vast majority of the characters are played by actors over 21. I’ve resisted adulthood as much as anyone, but for obvious reasons, I just can’t relate to teenage issues anymore. I could care less about Jimmy trying pot or Amy running for student council — although Manny wearing a thong to school was one of the most scandalously memorable TV moments for an aughts teen. Feels quaint in an era saturated with Snapchat nudes, doesn’t it?
It’s been frustrating to see actors in their 20s repeatedly siphoned away to play eternal 17-year-olds (no, really) instead of being allowed to explore characters who are also navigating early adulthood. Cue The Bold Type.
The TV series, created by showrunner Sarah Watson, follows the adventures of BFFs Jane, Kat, and Sutton (Katie Stevens, Aisha Dee, and Meghann Fahy) and their work at Scarlet, a women’s magazine based on Cosmopolitan as the show is “inspired by the life” of former editor-in-chief Joanna Coles. The first revelation? We get to see actresses in their 20s playing characters the same age instead of passing themselves off as high school sophomores! Praise Anna Wintour! I’m thoroughly enjoying watching my demographic actually being our demographic. It alleviates the weird peer/parent viewing experience and validates your more recent missteps rather than make you cringe at your old ones. In particular, the social issues that felt earth-shattering as a teen pale in comparison to the potential consequences of a professional pratfall. The show thus acquires a mature and reflective tone alongside sillier beats like fishing a yoni egg out of your friend’s vagina and pouring a bucket of cold water on the myth that shower sex is fantastic.
Special mention also goes to the girls’ boss Jacqueline (Melora Hardin) for being the most delightful subversion of every fashion alpha stereotype ever. I fully expected her to be a scathing Devil Wears Prada redux, but she’s most notable for what she isn’t — namely, a bitch. Female bosses both on TV and in real life are not only assumed but expected to treat their female subordinates with contempt and derision, to the point where getting your spirit broken by a “bitch boss” is perceived as a rite of passage for any young woman looking to make it in the corporate world. Jacqueline turns this trope on its head, gamely taking the trio under her wing as a no-nonsense mentor, her capacity for understanding and kindness as high as her intolerance for bullshit. Plus, she gives actual sound career advice without exploiting the girls or crushing their self-esteem! The bar may be low, but the results are heartwarming to watch. Hardin plays “ambiguously maternal authority figure who would still totally kick your ass” really well.
Gif credit: Kadena Daily
Another surprise crowning jewel of the show has been the relationship between Kat and Adena (Nikohl Boosheri), one of the first portrayals of an out Muslim lesbian on mainstream television, generating both praise and controversy. Kat initially tells a curious Adena that she’s straight and I was already bracing myself for a season of gay panic à la Skins‘ Naomi and Emily. In a hilarious about-face for the plot and the character, Kat decides she’s into women and cheerfully announces she wants to bang Adena like 12 hours after the orientation conversation. Super hetero there, Kat. Rather than squandering the emotional momentum of their relationship on the usual label dance, the couple faces much more pressing obstacles like immigration law and Islamophobia. The main romance on the show is between two sapphic women of color and I am HERE for it! And not just because of my massive crush on both Aisha and Nicole.
That’s not to say Jane and Sutton don’t deserve shoutouts, too. Jane is a newly promoted writer navigating the responsibilities of her new position and what it means to date as a Millennial woman. Katie Stevens has thrown herself at the zanier moments of the show with gusto and her apparent embrace of cringe comedy (she is the subject of both the yoni egg scene AND the awkward shower sex) has paid off well in terms of making the character more nuanced, in addition to the narrative tone overall. Stevens can also carry more emotionally hefty storylines, like Jane grappling with the decision to be tested for the BRCA gene after it is revealed that her mother died at a young age from breast cancer.
Assistant Sutton struggles with the potential professional ramifications of secretly dating hunky board member Richard (Sam Page) and plucking up the courage to pursue her ultimate dream of working in the fashion department. While I sadly can’t relate to having a sexy covert affair with a superior, her discussion with Richard about feeling pressure to achieve her goals ASAP because she’s turning 26 this year and she fears complacency REALLY hits close to home right now. Bonus points for the fact that neither of them bat an eye at Kat’s overnight sexuality revelation and are immediately as invested in her relationship with Adena as they are in their own love lives.
Above all, it’s refreshing to watch young women support each other and face challenges while still being realistically flawed in ways that aren’t always redeemable. Jane publicly snaps at Jacqueline when an assignment unearths painful memories of her mother’s illness. Sutton inadvertently threatens Richard’s career when Kat angrily barges into his office to confront him about sharing their private conversation with a fellow board member. Kat coddles an incompetent intern and creates a PR nightmare for the magazine. Frankly, she doesn’t seem that great at her job at times. For a supposedly seasoned social media manager, she frantically deletes quite a few tweets, although I’m willing to hand wave that for the laugh I got out of her accidentally tweeting, “This lesbian shit is intense!” from the corporate account. In the end, however, they all acknowledge their mistakes and use the consequences as an opportunity for growth. Jane apologizes to Jacqueline and realizes she has to face her fear, Sutton breaks up with Richard to protect their respective jobs, and Kat must fire her intern. Ultimately, none of these mistakes are really meant to morally categorize or negatively impact our perception of any of the trio, a welcome departure from the broad brush strokes that usually plague the characterization of women on television.
The magic that has propelled The Bold Type to the forefront of the TV summer landscape is, without a doubt, the depth and strength of the bond between the trio. Sure, they get pissed off with each other – what best friends don’t on occasion? – but it’s mercifully never left to fester as a long term conflict. They fuck up, they recognize it right away, they apologize, they move on. Their connection easily transcends the personal drama of the week. Although I’m well aware that the writers will probably break them up temporarily at some point, I have complete confidence that nothing can keep them apart for long. I just can’t overstate how lovely it is to see young women caring about each other unconditionally, through thick and thin. Strong friendships and more importantly strong writing, especially for female characters, doesn’t always have to rely on drama and conflict and rivalry. Sometimes all we want to see is women giving their friends a shoulder to lean on. Or more accurately, having those friends happily climb fully clothed into a bathtub to feed you wine. I can’t think of a purer expression of friendship than that.
Erin Tatum is a social media marketer and writer. She lives in Pennsylvania with her numerous dogs and birds. Her passions include animals, intersectional feminism, and baking. She is a diehard foodie with a weakness for bad reality TV.