Since it debuted in July, its overnight ratings haven’t exactly set the world on fire, but we’re long past the era in which most viewers in Freeform’s youthful target demographic — or outside it — watched TV that way. On my social media feeds, every week I see more people discussing their enjoyment of “The Bold Type,” which is understandable. Like the women whose stories it tells, the Freeform series is charming, reasonably realistic, and smart about a lot of different things.
While I’m very much looking forward to the season finale on Tuesday, I don’t want the season (and certainly not the series) to be over. I’ve really enjoyed spending time with fashion assistant Sutton (Meghann Fahy), social-media manager Kat (Aisha Dee) and writer Jane (Katie Stevens) — three striving young Scarlet magazine employees who have supported each other through a series of adventures, romances and professional setbacks.
It helps that the show isn’t incredibly dumb about how the media actually works, and to be honest, most TV programs are. I grind my teeth every time I see a “journalist” on a scripted TV show fail to use a recorder to document their interviews or a female reporter sleeping with a source. “The Bold Type” doesn’t have time for that nonsense — everyone is too busy.
What kind of pieces are “sticky,” how well something does on social media, what it costs to put out a glossy magazine, who might get laid off, what startup is drawing all the talent — “The Bold Type” is generally clear-eyed and unsentimental about the pressures faced by men and women churning out and promoting content every day. (You know how, on “Girls,” it seemed as though Hannah would live off selling one freelance story every few months? I can picture the characters on this show being fans of “Girls” but rolling their eyes at that.)
It’s truly remarkable how many tropes and boring stereotypes this series has avoided. One of the TV’s most persistent cliches is the female head honcho as a one-dimensional harpy, but the editor at Scarlet is a sharply dressed, capable woman named Jaqueline Carlyle (Melora Hardin). Unlike most women bosses onscreen, she’s not shrill, vapid, grasping, cruel, predatory, or some combination of all of the above.
“The Bold Type” may have overcorrected a bit — one of the executive producers is magazine veteran Joanna Coles, which may be why, on occasion, Jacqueline’s encouragement and mentoring seem almost too good to be true. That said, Hardin’s performance is layered and skilled, and more importantly, the lofty professional goals of all the women on screen — Jacqueline and her employees included — are not treated as freakish or strange.
Why wouldn’t these women be ambitious? But TV shows rarely feature multiple women with big dreams without setting them against each other. On “The Bold Type,” however, a women’s desire to advance in her career is not treated as something that is vaguely shameful, nor are there any dumb, lazy plots about catfights, betrayals or backstabbing.
“I didn’t have bosses that were the Miranda Priestlys” of “The Devil Wears Prada,” executive producer and showrunner Sarah Watson told Variety. “I had bosses that were the Jacqueline Carlyles, and I had mentors like that. It was just so exciting to get to show that character on television. Also, I feel like there’s been this convention that’s been on TV for so long, where when you have female friendships on TV, the place you’re going to look for drama is them turning on each other, and that’s not my experience at all. I have friends who always have my back, they always proofread my email for me or say ‘Yes, send that to your boss’ or don’t. Those are the female friendships I have, and that’s what I wanted to show on TV.”
It’s not that there weren’t challenges for the lead characters. At one point, a female co-worker took credit for Sutton’s work, and in a different episode, Kat had to fire a young woman who was not doing her job well. Jane views Jacqueline as a mentor, but she also considers a job offer from another publication. At no point were any of these women depicted as villains, bitches or shrews. The entire premise of the show revolves around the idea that women can be good friends to each other as they ascend the career ladder.
As Watson noted, “They were always going to lean on each other in those big moments of life challenges. We found this tone for the show where, even when there are these hard challenges of Jane getting tested for the BRCA gene or Kat getting doxxed, they’re there for each other. There is still this comfort, and it’s not just ‘me against the world,’ it’s ‘me and my squad.’”
All three core characters have had varied love lives this season (which included Jane’s admission that she’d never had an orgasm and found sex intimidating), even as they sought promotions and higher professional profiles. This kind of character development of multiple women doesn’t happen nearly enough on TV. Too often in the past, women could be successful, be reasonably good people or have compelling romantic relationships — but heaven forbid all three at once. (Though “Sex and the City” was groundbreaking, it, too, occasionally lapsed into some of these problematic dynamics.) “The Bold Type” may not have Carrie Bradshaw’s Louboutin collection, but it routinely stomps on those kinds of tiresome TV cliches.
Consider that “The Bold Type” gave the biggest and most overtly romantic arc to Kat and a hijab-wearing photographer named Adena (Nikohl Boosheri). That’s quietly revolutionary. Both halves of the fan-favorite couple Kadena are also women of color, which is still the kind of relationship too rarely round on TV. The actresses turned the ups and downs of the romance into one of the year’s most honest and charming love stories. And the show slipped in a little political commentary when it dealt with Adena’s immigration status and how she was treated when she left and entered this country.
Of course, there are idealized and romanticized elements to “The Bold Type” — and that’s the expected ABC/Freeform branding at work. But who says you can’t have your cake and eat it, too? The time these young women spend in Scarlet’s fashion closet is frequently a delight, not just because the central trio’s chemistry is real and the writing strikes the right balance between banter and confession.
The closet scenes are also fun in part because the women are surrounded by — and sometimes wearing — extremely covetable shoes, tops and dresses. What “The Bold Type” knows is that it’s entirely possible for women to be ambitious, kind, flawed and have great taste in earrings.
I want more of all of that. Freeform should, too.
Danielle Turchiano contributed to this story.