Scan the average national news source and millennials are being blamed for the decline in everything from the oil industry to the beer business. (Even IndieWire has placed the demise of the DVR at their feet.) With a murky, nebulous attitude toward an emerging generation, it’s difficult for shows based primarily around millennial characters to not feel like an over-corrective force in shaping how the public sees young professionals.
It’s one of the elements that makes “The Bold Type,” Freeform’s newest series about a trio of employees at a fictional, high-profile women’s magazine, feel like a fresh new direction. The exploits of Scarlet staff writer Jane (Katie Stevens), social media coordinator Kat (Aisha Dee) and newly minted fashion desk assistant Sutton (Meghann Fahy) don’t feel catered to a specific audience. Their stories, as a friend group and as individuals, don’t merely speak to viewers within a New York Cosmo bubble or as a means to convert/educate nonbelievers. These are three young people, three young women who don’t apologize for wanting to contribute to a changing world and find their own places in it.
Rather than condemning Jane, Kat and Sutton for their aspirations, “The Bold Type” champions their specific kind of assertive behavior. These characters aren’t always fully equipped to handle the trickiest aspects of their jobs, but the way the show allows them to fail without passing judgment on them as people is a refreshing change. They are able to have tumultuous times in their friendship, face mistakes and unforced errors in their day-to-day professional lives. There are consequences to those shortcomings, but so far the show has used those mistakes in a way that doesn’t chastise them for trying to find a new approach to telling political, feminist stories.
It allows these relatively new entrants into the workforce a chance to determine their own value in the workplace and a chance to prove that worth to bosses who may need some convincing to give them a chance. They are working in the same internship-to-entry-level position corporate ladder that often undervalues the contributions of its younger members. By showing that this kind of confidence doesn’t come from an abundance of privilege or a series of lucky breaks, it’s helping to show that millennials have a place in the workforce that doesn’t come purely from entitlement.
Sure, the show’s version of life inside the inner workings of an editorial system may be a little idealized at times: “The Bold Type” sometimes skips over some of the more practical, less glamorous parts of reporting stories and filing opinion pieces. But in putting forward what Scarlet does as a magazine on a day-to-day basis, it uses some of those liberties to reconsider the power that these magazines have. Showing the power of young women and young people to champion positive, affirmative ways to change our perception of what’s happening in the world.
That care extends to the characters beyond the three at the show’s center. Scarlet boss Jacqueline Carlyle is a marked counterpoint to the usual Miranda Priestly-style magazine editors put on screen in the past. She doesn’t exist merely to help these young women reach actualization, but her occasional nurturing approach to her employees balances a bottom line with making these women better at their jobs.
In turn, though “The Bold Type” occasionally highlights the differing perspectives between women of different ages, it doesn’t set up a generational zero-sum game. There’s a give and take between Jacqueline and Jane, in particular, that doesn’t set up one as the show’s moral conscience over the other.
“The Bold Type” also speaks of the power that young people can have in driving a greater conversation about issues that affect them. Part of that comes through one of the more nuanced representations of social media in the film/TV world. Kat’s job as social coordinator is acknowledged as a valuable part of the magazine’s operations. Jacqueline takes a vested interest in how that side of the business helps a brand present a public face. In the process, it puts the role of messaging on equal footing with a writer and an assistant. The show gives equal weight to the personal and professional issues that these young women face, no matter how traditional their role is.
It’s a common pitfall of emotionally charged dramas to put forward its characters as a sum of their traumas, to define members of an ensemble purely in relation to the hardships of their past. “The Bold Type” isn’t blind to the backstories of the women at the center, but it’s taken care to establish them as their own people before drawing in the full context of their families. For example, Wednesday night’s episode, “The Breast Issue,” revealed some of the ideas behind Jane’s personal connection to a cancer-related piece. Her mother’s battle with breast cancer was revealed only after six episodes of watching Jane come into her own as a writer.
“The Bold Type” doesn’t shy away from consequences. Even when these characters find success, it often comes at a price. Kat gets doxxed, Jane gets sued, Sutton’s job offer hits a snag. But by treating this cyclical process of triumph and setback as a human problem and not merely something of concern for the youths, “The Bold Type” affords valuable voices a platform without a side dish of condescension. As a result, it’s a show that will end up making even more people take notice.
“The Bold Type” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on Freeform.