Katie Stevens (left), Mehann Fahy
Photo: Phillippe Bosse (Freeform)

There are great jackets and flouncy sleeves, cute friend rituals and zippy magazine banter. There’s a giddy reunion and a head stuck in a blouse. Texts pop up on screen, fashion closets are explored, three-way hugs are hugged, and it’s all very nice. Yet The Bold Type’s second season premiere didn’t really get started until Adena El Amin brought up oral sex at a fashion party. Welcome back, The Bold Type! You’ve been missed.

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That’s not meant to be facetious. In its first season, The Bold Type did a bunch of things pretty well, and a couple of things extremely well. Chief among them: It carved out a space as the show that frankly, and usually somewhat calmly, addressed issues young women face all the time but which rarely get discussed in TV and film. They were rarely in the vein of Very Special Episodes, because that frankness made sure the stories had an almost everyday quality. When they did go big—a story about the “breast cancer gene,” a near-perfect finale centered on the experiences of a pair of rape survivors and the way their stories are told—it nearly always worked, because everyday complexity and struggle was always a part of the lives of these women.

So when Kat and Adena have a quiet but startling blowup about oral sex at a Scarlet party, it’s the moment at which the premiere (B+) finally seems to arrive. Everything that follows is as expertly handled as ever, not dodging moments of sentiment, not stopping at a warm friend hug and a heart-tugging conversation between Adena and Kat. It’s inspiring, but grounded, vulnerable, but not saccharine, and complicated, as so many things are. When Kat and Adena sit down to have their conversation, it’s fumbling and honest and a little awkward, but full of love. When we later see the two of them in bed, Kat preparing to perform oral sex on the woman she loves—the first woman she’s loved—it’s thrilling, and not just because The Bold Type allowing two queer women of color to have loving, recognizably tender sex on television feels like a very big deal. It’s also thrilling because it’s a first, a moment of personal growth, a person taking a risk and overcoming uncertainty, fear, and insecurity to do so.

It’s excellent. And the rest of “Feminist Army” is pretty good, too—it’s just hard to top Kat and Adena’s story for sheer impact. Nikohl Boosheri and Aisha Dee give terrific, low-key performances in a story that feels high-stakes. As Jane and Sutton, Katie Stevens and Meghann Fahy also remain top-notch, each giving thoughtful performances that are by turns effervescent and weighty. The only thing holding back this otherwise terrific premiere is a lack of shading in the characters of Mitzi and Victoria (and the Incite staff in general), both of whom are drawn a bit broadly—not a problem, perhaps, on another show. But on a series like this one, where they almost always dodge the simple version for the more complicated one, it sticks out.

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Photo: Phillippe Bosse (Freeform)

It’s an issue that continues in “Rose Colored Glasses” (B+), as both (Tiny) Jane and Sutton continue to struggle with with the issues raised in the premiere. That’s not to say that neither has big moments in “Feminist Army”—Jane gets over the hump of a tricky journalist moment by returning to telling the truth, an approach Jacqueline guided her toward throughout season one, and Sutton makes the difficult decision to truly end things with Richard, recognizing that even a convenient shift in HR policy can’t stop tongues from wagging.

Still, their stories, both already compelling, get more interesting in the second half of the evening, even if their antagonists stay disappointingly flat. “Rose Colored Glasses” neatly ties the issues of the first episode into the second, setting up conflicts that seem likely to shape at least part, if not all, of the season. That’s especially true of Jane, whose almost comically bad interactions with Victoria set the groundwork for her to get fired at episode’s end (a blessing in disguise, it seems), but it’s likely that Sutton’s tension with Richard and with Mitzi will continue as well.

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The heart of this episode once again resides with Kat (and, gratifyingly, with both Adena and Alex), but the challenges Jane and Sutton encounter also pack a punch. Particularly striking: the sight of Jane, wearing her Incite costume, reciting the company line before blurting out the nuance she was told to bury. Sutton’s no-nonsense pep talk from Jacqueline (Melora Hardin, still one of the best in the whole damn business) is only slightly less effective, if only because it’s surprisingly brief. It’s a good pep talk—most of Jacqueline’s are—but Sutton goes from totally shaken to A-OK in a heartbeat. It’s worth it for her frank slut-shaming chat a few scenes later, and Fahy sells both that exchange and her photo-coaching session with her usual casual charisma.

Still, the main event of “Rose Colored Glasses” is the storyline from which the episode takes its title. One of the few missteps in the first season was the show’s failure to address Kat’s race. If this storyline is an indication of where The Bold Type is headed, not only will that failure cease to be an issue, it’s likely to enrich the show, deepening and complicating the show’s relationships (perhaps most notably, Kat’s relationship with her own identity.) While the scenes between Kat and her parents are excellent—the dinner scenes in particular—it’s really the few scenes between Kat and Alex (Matt Ward) that stand out.

Last season, Alex was a maddeningly thin character, defined almost solely by his friendship with, and feelings for, Sutton. Here, he begins to become better defined, and Ward navigates the tricky conversations they have with grace. But it’s Dee who brings it all home, bringing insecurity, frustration, guilt, anger, and other quick flashes of emotion to the fore. It’s restrained, messy, honest, and as with nearly all of The Bold Type’s best moments, refreshingly, winningly frank.

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I missed the costumes, I missed the jokes, and I missed the all-too welcome sight of three women enjoying the role they play in each other’s lives. But that frankness is what I missed most, and it’s what makes The Bold Type so special. I’m so glad it’s back.

Stray observations

  • Welcome back to The Bold Type coverage! I’ll be here every week as long as you’re here every week, so if you’d like coverage of the show to stick around, please come back and read it again next week.
  • Buzzfeed’s Alanna Bennett spoke to new showrunner Amanda Lasher about the show finally addressing Kat’s race. It’s a must-read.
  • Hot free clinic doctor is being set up for some kind of love triangle, isn’t he?
  • This season both Boosheri and Stephen Conrad Moore, who plays Oliver, were promoted to series regulars, so get used to seeing them.
  • Jacqueline Carlyle is an all-time great fictional boss.
  • Favorite one-liners? Music cues? Kramer blazers? Tell me in the Fashion Closet, also known as the comments below.

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