Television

'The Bold Type' Blends Political/Social Issues With Good Female-Centered Action

Melora Hardin’s Jacqueline is just one of the highlights of The Bold Type (Photo credit: Freeform/Phillippe Bosse)

The Bold Type still needs work, but watching women portrayed as smart and competent and funny and flawed is undeniably refreshing.


The Bold Type

Cast: Katie Stevens, Aisha Dee, Meghann Fahy, Melora Hardin
Subtitle: Season 1
Network: Freeform
Air time: Tuesday, 9pm
Airdate: 2017-09-05
Amazon

The Bold Type is like the television form of Jessica Seinfeld's infamous brownies. Designed to get her kids to eat vegetables, as all children are rightfully reluctant to do, the recipe for these brownies calls for the usual chocolate, flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and pureed spinach and carrots; a delicious and decadent way to trick children (or viewers) into consuming something healthy.

Likewise, beneath the style, gloss, and glamour, over a mere ten episodes of a short first (and hopefully not last) season, The Bold Type has demonstrated that it has its heart in the right place. The Bold Type wants its viewers to consider important political and social issues, while also enjoying the endless wardrobe options of the Scarlet Magazine fashion closet. While shows like Law and Order often address social issues simply by ripping episode plots from the tawdriest of headlines, The Bold Type mostly succeeds at incorporating the travel ban, internet trolling and slut-shaming, sex-positive feminism, women’s health awareness, sexual assault activism, and the current state of print journalism’s newsrooms into its material in an arguably more organic way. At a magazine like Scarlet, the latter two topics would definitely come up at some point (especially as more and more publications halt written coverage and "pivot to video"), while the former problem provides a tragic (and unfortunately realistic) obstacle to the Kat-Adena romance.

The question remains as to whether anyone will be thinking about The Bold Type in five years without seeing it as a relic, particulary its engagement with modern technology. Depicting social media in popular culture seems to have become a bit of a narrative catch-22. If a present-day series ignores social media entirely, it comes off as unrealistic given its role in most of our lives; on the other hand, if the text goes all-in with social media, it won't age well given contemporary society's rapid technological advancement.

The Bold Type has picked the second strategy, obviously, which makes it a perfect show for 2017 in a lot of ways: multiple plot lines related to Twitter etiquette, as well as one involving social media live streaming, as seen in the quietly powerful season one finalé. Yet, just as Saved By the Bell is as dated by Zack Morris' infamous blocky phone as by Slater's mullet and Kelly's crop tops, I do worry that The Bold Type's focus on the technical minutiae of now dooms it to become a quaint period piece. Will people who watch The Bold Type in the future be too busy cringing at how people in the 2010s used the term "hashtag", or will they be able to appreciate the skill with which this seemingly fluffy show addressed key issues of 2017 with sensitivity and humor?

In my first review, I expressed a desire for The Bold Type to delve deeper into Kat’s (Aisha Dee) characterization outside of her relationship with Adena (Nikohl Boosheri). While the series has yet to provide much backstory -- aside from a mention or two of her well-off parents who work as psychologists -- by combining Kat's economically privileged background combines with her adroitness with the fast pace of social media does paint a picture of a young woman who's used to being able to quickly fix problems and find solutions.

In essence, what makes Kat so good at her job tells us how Kat perceives and responds to the world around her. Her reliance on the instant gratification provided by social media notifications make Kat perhaps the most stereotypically “millennial” character of the three protagonists of the show. That is, if Kat can get Scarlet’s Twitter account to more than two million followers -- and become director of social media at a large magazine in her mid-20s, for that matter -- why wouldn't she believe that a single well-phrased hashtag can change the world, or at least save Adena from being harassed at customs? So while The Bold Type stumbled in neglecting Kat's character history, its synthesis of Kat's personality and her career is actually a pretty satisfying move.

The Bold Type isn't a perfect show; a second season renewal would offer plenty of opportunities for improvement. A recent BuzzFeed article noted that while the show earns kudos for having black characters like Kat, Oliver, and Alex in positions of prominence at Scarlet, said successes are presented in a vacuum, ignoring the institutional struggles these characters likely would’ve faced.

That being said, watching The Bold Type, was similar to that of watching the female-led Ghostbusters and Wonder Woman films: the joy of seeing women working together, supporting one another, and being smart and competent and funny and flawed, rather than fighting over a man. That such portrayals are still rare in popular culture allows The Bold Type to position itself as a defender of this (absurdly) niche category. If Freeform is smarter than their new network name implies, they’ll renew The Bold Type. I know I'm not the only one with whom this show has resonated.

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