What 'The Bold Type' Gets Wrong, And Why We're Still Watching It
A millennial 'Sex and the City,' the show is ridiculously unrealistic, yet shamelessly addictive all the same.
There’s a lot that Freeform’s The Bold Type gets wrong. At its heart, this show revolving around three millennial women who work for a Cosmo-inspired, NYC-based women’s magazine is one that’s steeped in fantasy — just like many that came before it. After all, Carrie Bradshaw’s penchant for buying $600 Manolo Blahniks on a sex columnist’s salary wasn’t the most apt portrayal of what it’s like to support yourself as a writer in New York City, was it? Hardly. No, Sex and the City was romanticized as all hell in that sense — and yet we continued to eat it up week after week for years.
The Bold Type follows in the footsteps of predecessors like SatC and How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days in more ways than one: It’s a silly, at times saccharine, and ridiculously unrealistic portrayal of what it’s like to work in media in New York City, but it’s also shamelessly addictive. Again, there’s a lot that this dramedy gets wrong — and a reason we’re still watching it regardless.
First things first: Kat, Sutton, and Jane are our three plucky 20-something heroines, exploring the complicated world of living, dating, and working in New York City, all brought together by their employment at Scarlet Magazine. They’re also fresh college graduates all surviving on an entry-level salary (except for Kat, but more on her utterly improbable job title and responsibilities later). Yet they’re running around in designer garb wherever they go, and I’m talking even in the early aughts of Season 1, before Sutton gets a job as a fashion assistant.
To look so fresh-faced, and as if they just stepped out of a salon post-fabulous blowout at all times, begs the question: Are these girls living in an actual Maybelline commercial? Freeform would like us to think so. Their hair stays immaculate during regular trips from Manhattan to Brooklyn and back, during hectic weekday commuter traffic, without even a single errant hair coming out of place as they cathartically and dramatically scream on the subway tracks, or in the many expensive cabs they so flippantly hop in and out of. On that ENTRY-LEVEL salary I mentioned earlier.
I don’t even have to live in New York City to comprehend how wildly inept a portrayal this is, but let’s put it into perspective, shall we? All it takes is a cursory perusal of “entry-level editorial positions” on Glassdoor to see that Jane (played by Katie Stevens) probably wouldn’t be making more than $37K a year at her position at Scarlet — and that’s if she’s lucky. I’m talking amazing internship and references to get her foot in the door lucky. I think I’d be a little more frugal with my pennies if I were in her boat, wouldn’t you?
On another note, did anyone else wonder, “What would Samantha think?!” during that Season 1 episode when Jane admitted to, then went so far as to pen an article about the fact that she’d never had an orgasm before? No? Just me? But seriously though, WHAT? Maybe it’s time to get you a good vibrator, girl.
Anyway, let’s leave this travesty of orgasmic proportions by the wayside to consider Kat (Aisha Dee)’s position as Social Media Director, where her schedule is remarkably chill for allegedly being the singular employee at the helm of social media for the entire magazine. Do we ever see Kat’s colleagues? And, like this Mashable article points out, “There is no way a Scarlet-sized company would still have their own social media manager manually sending out individual tweets on mobile instead of having someone three stations lower plug it into TweetDeck.” Case in point.
I know what you’re thinking: If there’s so much that the show gets wrong, then why even bother watching it?
Well, far and away the most unrealistic portrayal of employment at a fast-paced women’s magazine is the uber-close relationship each of these female editors have with their boss, Jacqueline (a character whose career and experiences are loosely based on that of Hearst and Cosmopolitan real-life former editrix, Joanne Coles). Jacqueline (Melora Hardin)’s understanding — and ability to mentor junior employees at the magazine, like Jane, Sutton, and Kat — nears saintliness.
I can appreciate this saintliness, however, when compared to the dragon-like editors-in-chief of TV shows and films past. In comparison to The Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestly (no matter how much we love her), Jacqueline is heaven-sent, borne in upon a chariot of clouds and winged horses. (It probably helps that Joanne Coles serves as an executive producer on the show.) There’s no “gird your loins!” at this office.
I’m willing to let this particular instance of “unrealism” go, considering the fact that the show strives to upend the above-mentioned “dragon lady boss” trope. More on that: This stereotypical and patriarchal image of an older woman in a successful position she’s worked hard for years to get to, yet who fails to serve as a true mentor and support system because she is threatened by the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young woman entering her space, is utterly tired. The image of this HBIC as someone who has clawed her way up the ladder to success at the detriment of others in her industry is beyond outdated, to say the least.
But on the other end of the spectrum, Season 2 has seen some improvement when it comes to Jacqueline — at least in terms of just what this EIC will put up with. Most notably, when Jane leaves her position at Scarlet to write for Incite (a thinly disguised Vice), and ends up getting fired for some seriously clumsy journalism re: the literal first and only article she writes for them. On what planet would this actually happen (or, in the words of this Vulture writer, "In what world?!")
Let’s just go ahead and ignore the fact that Jane is able to, pretty casually, sustain herself in NYC as a freelance writer after The Great Firing Incident. She is not exactly living in a shoebox either, the way any struggling entry-level writer without a trust fund most certainly would be. After waffling — I mean, freelancing, for several months, Jane goes running back to Jacqueline to ask for her old job back. Say what?! To Jacqueline’s credit, though, she doesn’t cave, at least not right away — instead telling the young writer, "You have some growing up to do. You need to live in this failure."
*cue the applause*
So, what has The Bold Type has handled fairly well, amidst its messiness? Titillating conversations around the today’s buzziest social issues. This show is very clearly trying to be a Sex and the City for the millennial generation, and when SatC was good, it was really good. (Also, we sort of need this after HBO’s Girls, which, don’t get me wrong, I loved and definitely miss. But its portrayal of female friendships was in no way aspirational.) It strives to introduce inclusivity via formerly-untold storylines, like that of Kat’s girlfriend, Adena (Nikohl Boosheri), who first introduces herself on the show as a "proud Muslim lesbian". Yes, girl!
Adena is a Muslim Iranian artist who struggles to get her visa approved in Trump’s post-Muslim ban America, and, as an Iranian American myself (and as a writer with decidedly progressive political leanings), I Have Thoughts about her.
Primarily, I couldn’t be more excited to see her character’s story being told, because it needs to be told more than ever right now. And that’s not only because I find it really satisfying personally to see an Iranian woman breaking from the mold on television (I felt the same way while watching Marvel’s The Punisher — she even shares my last name!). Why is that? Well, firstly, because most Middle Eastern actors are typecast into the grossly prejudicial, and vastly inaccurate, "terrorist" role. But that couldn’t be further from the truth in Adena’s case.
The Bold Type has an overarching message of female empowerment that is sorely needed right now. I mean, how could it not, with a name like that, a-little-too-punny factor aside? I could never truly be salty at a show that attempts to start important and eye-opening conversations around sociopolitical issues, even if the script does get a little clunky at times. In addition to the Muslim Ban, they’ve touched on the #MeToo movement and opened a dialogue between Jane and Jacqueline about the latter’s own experience with sexual assault in college. (Honestly, if you watch this episode and don’t shed a tear, I can’t relate.)
In Season 2, they even opened the door to the controversial topic of gun control and the Second Amendment, after Jane and Kat discover that Sutton carries a gun. Although this loose end is, again, rather clumsily tied up with the fashion assistant ultimately deciding to turn her gun into a vase (???). Yeah, I have questions about that one, too.
There’s a lot to be said about The Bold Type and what it’s striving to do. And yes, the show is mired in fantasy. It’s certainly problematic at times. But it’s started many a conversation that needs to be had, and more than had, showcased on television for broader audiences to take in. So, despite the problem areas, there’s still something so deliciously watchable, even shamelessly addictive, about the show — and its empowering core of strong female friendships — that keeps us coming back for more.