The Bold Type - Season 2
“Viewers of The Bold Type get to see what an open relationship entails, sans the heavy-handed moralizing that normally accompanies the topic.”
Title: The Bold Type
Episodes Reviewed: Season 2
Creator: Sarah Watson 👩🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Céline Geiger 👩🏼🇺🇸 (2 eps), Neel Shah 👨🏽🇺🇸 (2 eps), and various (7 ♀, 1 ♂, and 2 POC)
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Read Season 1 review here.
The inaugural season of The Bold Type won me over with its surprising ability to make me weep. At face value, it’s formulaic: young women work as journalists, finding love while fighting the patriarchy and leaning on each other for support. It’s Sex and the City, but modern. It’s Girls, but optimistic.
And it’s true, The Bold Type has its forebears, removing any ability to truly surprise. But that doesn’t diminish the power of its bite-sized meditations on women’s issues. Whether it’s the office politics of dating a superior, to the anxiety of precarious health, to a heartrending finale on sexual assault, nearly every episode in Season 1 achieved its desired poignancy. (Hence the waterworks.)
Since then, the writing has grown up alongside its three protagonists. Episodes blend more, tracking a journey rather than a string of episodic triumphs and bittersweet conclusions. I appreciate its deeper and less flippant leads, but I do miss the narrative capsules that tugged my emotions up and down like a pleasing rollercoaster. Still, a longer burn has its rewards. After a full season of snacking, The Bold Type’s second foray feels like a satisfying meal.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
Season 2 opens with “Feminist Army,” a declarative episode title that proves The Bold Type knows what it wants to be and goes for the gold. So, do they get it? Yes! Unlike some shows that sorely want to be female-driven and relevant to young women, yet fall short, showrunner Sarah Watson successfully leads her team of writers through empowering territory. The backdrop of Scarlet magazine, modeled after real-life magazine Cosmopolitan, provides the perfect analogy to The Bold Type. Both are glossy and punchy and fun, while tackling heavy issues with the nonjudgmental approach of confiding in one’s best friend.
Behind the scenes, female writers outnumber men 4 to 1. This translates directly to the screen, as stories are told through the eyes of three female leads, Jane, Kat, and Sutton (Katie Stevens, Aisha Dee, and Meghann Fahy). The 20-somethings work at Scarlet, battling sexism through episodic plots that often bubble up to a male-dominated board of directors, among whom the protagonists’ wise editor Jacqueline (Melora Hardin) often becomes their mouthpiece and ally.
Particularly encouraging for Season 2 is the sense that The Bold Type’s feminism is finally becoming intersectional. I’ll explain further in our next category, but seeing the show’s non-white protagonist Kat struggle over not just her sexuality, but her ethnic identity as well, signifies a clear move towards the kinds of multilayered realism that speaks to modern audiences.
The Bold Type has come a long way since its intentional but shallow handling of race in Season 1, and I can’t help but wonder if critical thinkpieces had anything to do with the change of heart. Muslim artist Adena (Nikohl Boosheri) has always been a highlight, as a multi-faceted immigrant whose identity blends seamlessly with her sexuality and religion. But only how do we see visible strides made with Kat, a biracial black and white character who was made frustratingly “colorblind” last season.
Writers touched on Kat’s economic privilege but seemed unsure what to say about a black woman navigating white spaces, preferring to sidestep the issue in the hopes that diverse casting would do the legwork for them. But just two episodes into Season 2, in “Rose Colored Glasses”, viewers finally see Kat grapple with her identity. Through some helpful navigation from a black coworker, and some hard conversations with her parents, Kat finds a way to be proud of her blackness rather than subconsciously relying on white and economic privilege to help her pass through life. The episode breaks the show open for conversations about race, and while it never makes racial issues a primary topic, it thankfully doesn’t stop with just one plot.
Still, while Adena and Kat represent some of the most interesting women of color on TV, the overall perspective remains white-centric. Men of color are few and far in between: Sutton’s fabulous boss Oliver and Jane’s new beau, Ben (Stephen Conrad Moore, who is black, and Luca James Lee, who is half Asian), come through in supporting roles but neither ever mention race. Coworker Alex (Matt Ward, who is black) sees his screentime shrink to almost nothing, while the minor character of Sutton’s old boss, Lauren (Emily Chang, who is East Asian) disappears entirely.
Beyond Kat, the other leads Jane and Sutton are sympathetic characters, but as white women they never have to deal with the kinds of issues people of color deal with. Sutton hails from a rural background, which does give her some interesting complexity, but Jane plays the “everywoman” despite her overwhelming whiteness. For example, when it comes to the difficult storyline of Jane being positive for a gene that predisposes her to cancer, the question of having access to health insurance is never more than a passing worry. In “Stride of Pride” (Season 2, Episode 5), Jane goes on job interviews and laments losing a potential gig to a “diversity hire,” which compels Kat to educate her on her ignorance. It’s a sensitive portrait of white privilege, but inadvertently highlights the way The Bold Type is written for white audiences. After all, women of color don’t need hand-holding to understand that systemic racism exists.
The Bold Type earned 5 of 5 in this category last season, and I’m happy to report it not only maintains its excellence but expands its LGBTQ storylines. In particular, I’m struck by the modern take on Kat and Adena’s relationship, as it morphs from a fairly straightforward coming-out plot in Season 1—with Kat discovering her attraction towards Adena and freaking out—to something much more interesting and uncharted in Season 2.
Writers give Kat the time and space to come to terms with her sexuality. Finding out she’s bisexual and dating Adena isn’t a simplistic Happily Ever After. After all, she’s a total gayby—a baby gay who needs to discover herself.
Midway through Season 2, Kat starts to fantasize about sex with other women. With a bracing penchant for honesty, she tells Adena about an errant kiss. Instead of feeling threatened, Adena suggests an open relationship and viewers get to see what this entails, sans the heavy-handed moralizing that normally accompanies the topic of polyamory.
Beyond being a refreshing narrative, it’s also a smart play to Freeform’s target demographic—those between 14 to 34 years old. According to a recent YouGov poll of 1000 respondents, nearly a fifth of Americans in that age range have had some kind of sexual activity with someone else while their partner knew about it. Yet polyamorous or open relationships are seldom seen onscreen in any healthy or complex capacity. The Bold Type rectifies this.
Mediaversity Grade: A- 4.56/5
The Bold Type personifies its protagonists. The show feels young and vulnerable; sometimes it’s tentative, sometimes it’s confident, and best of all—as we’ve seen in Season 2—it learns from its missteps and always strives to be better. That’s all we can ask of any show, really.