Reviews of US television programmes
In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, Freeform. Starts July 11
No two publications are ever the same, inside or behind the scenes. I’ve worked on trade magazines, consumer magazines, newspapers and web sites, in the US and the UK, and while certain elements have been the same, management, culture, processes and budgets have differed almost completely.
So despite the fact The Bold Type is based on the life of former Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Joanna Coles, it would be tempting to say that pretty much everything that happens in the show is absolute nonsense. But maybe, in the land of insane ad spend, magazines do pay their writers enough that they can live in spiffy Manhattan apartments. Maybe once bright young interns are promoted to the stellar job title of ‘writer’, Cosmo immediately invites them to participate in board meetings where rich old white male board members listen to their feature pitches about vibrators and decide whether to allow them to ’empower women’ like that – in ‘Cosmo‘? ‘Surely not!’ they say, like they’ve just wandered in from Shangri-La and picked up a copy of the magazine for the first time.
Maybe it really is like that. So I’ll stop trying to pick holes in the inaccuracies. Although, seriously? How big was the computer presentation screen in the boardroom? How much did that cost? Can’t they just huddle round a laptop like the rest of us?
Sorry. I’ll stop that right now. Let’s focus on the plot.
The old adage of ‘show don’t tell’ is still a vital tool in writers’ armouries. It lets them know when they should stop sledgehammering everything into the readers’ minds, assume they have a modicum of intelligence and find subtler ways involving plotting, dialogue, direction and acting to tell the story.
The Bold Type. Yep, already ‘show don’t tell’ has been chucked out the window, because it’s a double meaning – as well as being about magazines, it’s about strong, clever young women being bold and daring. And they’re going to tell you that all the way through.
Unfortunately, the writers are either sending up the audience or they’re too inept to actually show you how bold and daring the women are without telling you that the whole time. Indeed, just as 90% of The Playboy Club was contractually obliged to explain just how liberating and feminist working for corporate sponsor Playboy really was, so The Bold Type spends roughly half its run-time explaining how working for Cosmopolitan – sorry, ‘Scarlet’ magazine – really is a top feminist move that all the bright young, talented lead characters have been aspiring to all their lives. It’s not just sex and shopping, but it’s really willing to tackle the brave and daring issues, too. As you learn every other line of dialogue.
The trouble is the other half of The Bold Type is really just about sex and shopping, as well as just how groovy New York City is, which slightly undermines the message. It would also help if when it did try to do anything feminist or political, it wasn’t so utterly, laugh out loud inept at it.
The main storyline of the first episode sees the new promoted social media director at Scarlet Aisha Dee (Sweet/Vicious) – a social media director who actually Tweets the corporate account from her phone, rather than using TweetDeck, HootSuite or something a pro might be use… sorry, I’ll stop that now – trying to prove her worth (variants of “You go, girl” are the inevitable response) by convincing an artist to agree to an interview with the magazine.
Using a thesaurus, the writers of the episode decide that to show just how daring Scarlet and Dee are, the artist will be an Arab woman (Nikohl Boosheri). A lesbian Arab woman. A lesbian feminist Arab woman. A lesbian feminist Muslim Arab woman.
A lesbian feminist Muslim Arab woman who’s going to smuggle sex toys back to her home land! That was Dee’s idea! You go, girl! What could go wrong?
Can you guess what happens next?
Yes, the artist ends up arrested at the airport. Oh dear.
But rarely has there been a funnier moment on TV than when Dee and her Scarlet friends – that’s newly promoted writer Katie Stevens (American Idol) and top assistant Meghann Fahy (One Life To Live) – learn what’s transpired and reach for their phones… only to realise that Tweeting about it won’t save the artist. Not even the best-conceived hashtag campaign in the world will save her.
“If only there was something we could do,” they say, putting down their phones.
Indeed, amusingly, whenever Scarlet magazine boss Melora Hardin comes along to alternate between being a mentor and being a Devil wearing Prada, it’s usually to suggest that the budding writers get off their backsides and do something, rather than trying to social media everything to death.
“It must be terrible not knowing what your ex is up to, now he’s quite Instagram,” she says sympathetically.
“It is,” says Stevens. How will she ever find out what he’s doing? She can think of literally no way of finding out.
So Hardin forces her to… go to his house and talk to him. Gasp.
The Bold Type isn’t so much a show about smart, talented, bold young women working in the world of media as it is a stupid old person’s idea of what smart, talented bold young women working in the world of media must be like. And again, although I’ve never worked at Cosmopolitan and all magazines are different, my experience tells me that there are far smarter, far bolder young women working in journalism right now than The Bold Type would have you think.
Bin it, cancel your subscription and try another title instead is my advice.