Every Sunday, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for July 8 through 15 is “Pilot/Oh Hell No,” the first/second episode of Freeform’s new series The Bold Type.
In the 2000s, the most glamorous job romantic comedy heroines could aspire to was magazine writer. High-gloss movies like How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days, 13 Going on 30, and The Devil Wears Prada spotlighted the aspirations and inevitably salacious lives of stumbling writers who were plucky and determined and sometimes even ruthless. They stomped all over the competition (and some hearts) to get the prized columnist job, or cover story, or even just some basic respect in an industry that’s so often portrayed as cutthroat.
Created by Parenthood writer Sarah Watson, Freeform’s new series The Bold Type is a canny update of these rom-coms past. It stars a trio of ambitious women working in New York City at Scarlet, a fictionalized version of Cosmopolitan by way of Teen Vogue’s rebrand as the internet’s most intersectional magazine.
Jane (Katie Stevens) has just been promoted from assistant to writer but is struggling to figure out how to turn her personal life into material without crossing her own boundaries. Sutton (Meghann Fahy) is an assistant mulling her next move while trying not to fall too hard for the chiseled older board member (Sam Page) she’s secretly sleeping with. Kat (Aisha Dee) is Scarlet’s social media director, confident in everything — except, it turns out, her own sexuality.
In its first two episodes — which aired back to back on July 11 — The Bold Type shows each of its main women dreaming of something bigger, stumbling along the way, and bonding together. It even manages to throw in some sly commentary on the changing tastes and strategies of women’s magazines, with Scarlet prizing the “click gold” of spotlighting a lesbian Muslim artist just as much as a story on how to have your best orgasm.
The Bold Type is, in essence, like one of those aughts rom-coms discovered Tumblr and realized it was kinda gay. Or put another way, it’s the show teenage me desperately wanted — and one adult me is completely thrilled to have.
Here are three ways this show both upholds and subverts the magazine rom-coms from whence it came, signaling a promising season to come.
The Bold Type’s 20-somethings manage to be believably fabulous and flawed
One crucial element of any good romantic comedy is to incorporate some element of fantasy for viewers to live through vicariously. For however clumsy or lonely its heroine might be, she still usually lives in an unreasonably gorgeous apartment or collides into an unreasonably gorgeous man, or, more likely, both.
The Bold Type knows this, and indulges that tradition — to a point. Jane, Sutton, and Kat get to lounge in sprawling apartments and pop champagne in Scarlet’s walk-in fashion closet, but they all have realistic problems too.
Jane desperately wants to be one of Scarlet’s most treasured voices, but the magazine’s signature candor clashes directly with her own preference to keep things close to the vest; when she’s assigned that “how to have your best orgasm” piece in the second episode, she spirals into a panic before finally admitting to her friends that she’s never had an orgasm, period.
Sutton might be sleeping with the board member’s hottest guy — and Page is very charming, a relief given that I still knee-jerk scowl at the memory of him playing Joan’s awful husband on Mad Men — but she has masses of student loans weighing down her loftier ambitions.
Kat knows exactly what she wants from her job and her friends, but her sexual life is thrown into chaos when she meets Adena (Nikohl Boosheri), the magnetic Muslim lesbian artist who can make her stomach flip with the slightest twinge of her lips.
So, yes, all three of them are living some version of their dream in Manhattan (they have a hilariously Sex and the City–era disdain for Brooklyn, the borough in which they’d almost definitely live in real life). But these characters are also struggling with more down-to-earth, complex issues than the genre that inspired them ever made room to take on.
The editor-in-chief of Scarlet doesn’t want to be a bitch, but rather a mentor
One of the smartest moves The Bold Type makes is also one of its most surprising.
The first shot of Scarlet editor-in-chief Jacqueline (the great Melora Hardin) is a classic piece of misdirection, showing her strutting into a meeting in fire-engine-red cage heels and leather pants to lay down the law. But from there, Jacqueline doesn’t follow her rom-com predecessors who whipped their most promising employees into shape with relentless cruelty. (The Devil Wears Prada’s demanding Miranda Priestly is the most infamous example of that, but I rewatched some of How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days after I finished The Bold Type, and Bebe Neuwirth consoling an employee who hadn’t eaten since a breakup with, “Good for you! Now write about it,” might be the worst.)
Instead, Jacqueline reveals herself to be something much more interesting: a mentor. Though she’s firm with Jane as her new writer hesitates to get more personal, Jacqueline is also gentle and encouraging. She pushes Jane to do her best work while giving her real space to figure out how to do it, and smiles fondly at the memory of getting Jane’s original application, in which she called Scarlet “the big sister I never had.”
This version of an editor is a refreshing departure from the usual version, but having Jacqueline be a real mentor is also a smart interpretation of how women’s magazines are — at least outwardly — operating these days. In the 2000s, being fabulous at all costs was the goal; in the 2010s, forging some kind of sisterhood is far more on brand.
In a relief of a twist, The Bold Type actually cares about its central friendships
Even while I loved romantic comedies, one thing about them inevitably rang false: The women at the center of the stories were usually so focused on their work and love drama that their friendships were rarely anything more than perfunctory. The friends tended to be little more than sidekick sounding boards, standing by to throw encouragement or pithy punchlines into the mix before disappearing until it was convenient for them to return.
But The Bold Type has so far made a real effort to not just balance Jane, Kat, and Sutton’s stories but make sure they intertwine in a believable way. Each of the characters has a slightly different relationship to one another. They support, resent, and love each other more than anyone else could understand. And when, at the beginning and end of the first episode, they all stand on a New York City platform, hold hands, and scream as a train whips by, it feels exactly like the kind of friendship ritual that’s silly and moving all at once.
If The Bold Type keeps finding ways to make its characters, their friendships, and their aspirations as much compelling fun as the first couple of episodes have, it’ll make for one of the more satisfying rom-coms out there, TV show or no.