I’ll admit it: my middle- and high-school self thought I was way too cool for any of the shows on ABC Family. The overly-manufactured drama of “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” “Switched at Birth” and their equally soapy companions prompted many a swift eye-roll and channel-change from me over the years.
Now, ABC Family has rebranded itself as the Freeform channel, but read this description of its recent show “The Bold Type” — “This next generation of unapologetically fierce working women is primed to take on the world and smash the patriarchy — one selfie at a time,” — and you, too, may be tempted to roll your eyes and keep on channel-surfing. Don’t. “The Bold Type” exceeds any expectations set forth by its cheesy marketing description, and it’s one of the most fun, feminist and generally high-quality shows on television today.
The series indeed follows a set of “unapologetically fierce working women” — main characters Jane (Katie Stevens), Kat (Aisha Dee) and Sutton (Meghann Fahy) are 20-somethings who work at fictional magazine Scarlet, which intentionally mirrors the real-life Cosmopolitan. Together, the three best friends navigate their love lives, their careers and everything in between. It would be easy to turn this concept into little more than soapy, “chick-flick” drivel, but the creators of “The Bold Type” have managed to avoid this by focusing on the rock-solid, heartfelt relationships between the women at its core.
For starters, all three of them have different career goals — Jane, a writer, dreams of being a big-time journalist; Kat, a social-media director, finds herself increasingly drawn to activism; and Sutton, a fashion assistant, envisions herself one day atop the New York fashion scene. The characters are refreshingly uncompetitive, instead expressing genuine interest in each other’s work and rooting for each other’s successes. More importantly, when one falls, the other two don’t hesitate to offer comfort, validation and support of all kinds.
All three characters are played to perfection by their charming actresses, especially Dee and Fahy, who is nothing short of radiant as Sutton. The supporting cast also provides a near-infallible net upon which the three leads can rest. Melora Hardin is especially superb as Jacqueline, Scarlet’s pragmatic, endlessly caring boss, and it’s great fun to watch the magazine’s younger employees interact with her character. Nikohl Boosheri also offers a notable performance as Adena, Kat’s Muslim-lesbian-photographer-activist girlfriend. That mouthful of labels could potentially be a characterization landmine on any other show, but Adena and Kat’s relationship, much like Kat’s coming-out, Jacqueline’s role as a woman in leadership and a host of other touchy subjects are handled on “The Bold Type” with real grace.
Better yet, “The Bold Type” also effectively sidesteps the oversimplified “strong female character,” a pitfall that often plagues shows wanting to appease modern viewers. In other words, “The Bold Type” understands that to be strong does not mean to be perfect — its three protagonists are eminently likeable, but also realistically flawed. They make mistakes; they occasionally lash out at each other. Where “The Bold Type” really shines is in its conflict resolution. Arguments between the three are never unnecessarily drawn out, nor are they neatly resolved — these women love each other enough to acknowledge when they have done wrong, apologize sincerely and earnestly seek ways to learn from their own messiness.
None of this is to say the show isn’t still cheesy or unrealistic at times. Jane, Kat and Sutton’s wardrobes, apartments and spending habits indicate a far more lavish lifestyle than anyone working a low-level magazine position in New York City could afford, and their constant, glowing successes at work are sure to frustrate anyone who’s actually, painstakingly clawed their way to the top of a media organization. In a way, though, this makes me love the show more. A sprinkling of cheese is just enough to ensure the show maintains a level of escapism, keeping it generally lighthearted and fun to watch.
After all, kicking back to watch TV after a long day should offer some element of fun — I’ll just take mine with a side of smartly-written, bold, feminist characters, please. I’ll be tuning into “The Bold Type,” airing every Tuesday on Freeform and the next day on Hulu, and you should, too.