Welcome to Fix It, our series examining projects we love — save for one tiny change we wish we could make.
I love The Bold Type, but it frustrates me endlessly.
Over the years, the Freeform dramedy about three young women working at a magazine has displayed a maddening disregard for verisimilitude, and for the most part that adds to its charm. But with the final episodes now airing, I can’t help wonder what The Bold Type could have been — what it perhaps thought it was all along — with just the slightest attention to reality of what it’s like to work in media.
A quick overview: Jane (Katie Stevens), Kat (Aisha Dee) and Sutton (Meghann Fahy) are best friends who met while interning for Scarlet magazine, part of the multimedia conglomerate Safford, not unlike Conde Nast or Hearst (it’s loosely based on the life of real-life Cosmopolitan editor Joanna Coles). I was skeptical going into Season 1, but found myself won over by the enduring TV fantasy of New York City, the leads’ chemistry, and Sutton’s steamy affair with Safford board member Richard (Samuel Page). A friend of mine who worked at a magazine said she was afraid to watch in case it might be triggering to her own trials and tribulations in the world of print media.
But when it came to the girls’ jobs, I was and still am baffled.
In the pilot, Jane gets her first writing assignment after four years as an assistant. This follows Hollywood’s forever incorrect but perhaps politely affectionate theory that writers… don’t write. Like the origin story of the rom-com heroine who submits one article every six months (for a close but not exact comparison, most Mashable writers publish one thing per day — a mix of news, opinions, features, and more), Jane has been waiting in the wings for four years to be given permission to write, and somehow not asked to ever do it before that. More perplexing still, we learn that Scarlet does not even have an online presence; Jane’s editor tells her in the pilot that her pitches “don’t sell magazines.”
About that editor: Jane Sloan reports directly to the editor-in-chief of Scarlet, which at any ordinary publication would be her boss’s boss’s boss. Not only does Jane pitch stories to the literal head of the magazine, but they quickly form the kind of mentor/mentee relationship that television regularly presents to us as normal and which would get you fired in the real world (after five long years I do consider my boss a friend, but she still won’t put Beyoncé on hold to give me edits).
Scarlet’s stone-age sensibilities make sense for a print publication resistant to the digital era, but not in 2017. Most magazines in a similar position — including the show’s real-life inspiration Cosmopolitan — had strong digital arms by that time, with ad sales, video production teams, and commerce partnerships to boot. Scarlet gets a shakeup in Season 3 with the famous introduction of “the dotcom,” a phrase that is uttered with the kind of venom and fear afforded to an omnipotent dictator in dystopic YA.
One of my favorite, short-lived plot lines occurs at the start of Season 2, when de facto dotcom villain Patrick (Peter Vack) mandates the removal of comments sections from all online articles. Kat’s immediate opposition of this decision points to a woman who has maybe never been on the internet; she cites Scarlet’s “vibrant community of online users” as a base who love and need these comments, acting like abuse and harassment are aberrations, not the norm. If only, Kat.
A quick note about the online of it all: Kat starts the show as Scarlet’s social media director — director meaning she is literally the one person running multiple social media accounts for the magazine, and doing it manually. No interns or assistants or scheduled posts, just one girl and her smart phone against the world. To quote Kat back to Kat: “It’s not 2006.”
And that line kind of sums it up: The Bold Type is not set in 2006, but it would make a whole lot more sense if it did. That line in the pilot has grown more pointed and dissonant over the show’s five seasons, prompting speculation (at least from this reporter) about how it’d play as a period piece about the early aughts — which, based on the Coles connection, it was perhaps intended to be. Maybe the necessary fashion alone killed this possibility in preproduction, a decision I would respect. Or maybe this is the writing and production team’s actual idea of what the media industry looks like.
Do I actually want to fix The Bold Type? It’s impossible to say. My experience with this show has been defined from the start by its ludicrous yet self-assured voice, and to take that away might be tantamount to robbing this show of its entire essence. A more accurate Bold Type media landscape could kill so much of the show’s remaining fantasy; the girls’ uncanny ability to solve problems at sitcom-speed, tiny Jane’s incremental wokening, the fact that it all takes place over six months. Realism may turns The Bold Type into the show my friend was always afraid of — but to be honest, I’d watch that show, too.