Rya Kihlstedt, Meghann Fahy
Photo: Philippe Bosse (Freeform)

The Bold Type is a series that’s really trying something. It’s trying to be entertaining, of course—and it mostly succeeds—but it’s also trying to be, for lack of a better term, responsible. It seems clear to me that the show’s writers are keenly aware that many members of their audience are young women, some very young; they make stuff that can sometimes be comfort food, but is rarely, if ever, junk food. As a result, there’s a streak of earnestness that runs through the show that’s hard to resist. Rarely manipulative, almost always sincere, and unafraid of sentiment. These are among the show’s best qualities.

Which is why it can be a bit difficult to spot that this series has a bit of Jane problem.

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In the two episodes reviewed here, there’s much to like, even love in some cases. Sutton’s continuing career storyline gets richer and more interesting. Kat’s open relationship meets an end that feels a bit rushed, perhaps, but honest, and it doesn’t suddenly vault Kat and Adena back into perfect happiness. These stories are propelled by the characters on which they center discovering what they want, running into walls and finding ways around or beneath them, making complicated discoveries, and learning new things. It’s all action, in other words—character-centered, determined by wants, needs, objectives, obstacles, fears, hang-ups, and so on.

Jane’s stories include some of those things. But, as is the case with the first of our two episodes, it sometimes feels as though it’s all an excuse for her to write about, and thus feel about, things.

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Season 2, Episode 8: “Plan B” — Grade: B-

Last week’s episode began with a sex scene, a broken condom, and a too-cute “Oh are we boyfriend/girlfriend now?” conversation, all there to set up Jane’s two-episode arc. Said arc is pretty much this: Jane’s forced to see a doctor when the side effects from taking Plan B are rough for her, and her doctor says, oh by the way, you should probably decide if you want to have kids tout suite. That this freaks her out is totally understandable; that when she’s unable to come up with a better pitch, she once again goes to the well of whatever’s on her mind right then is similarly understandable, if a little tiresome. But no one seems to view any of what follows as at all irritating, to say nothing of troubling. Jane’s emotional distress is a valid excuse for her to blow deadlines, to shut out her boyfriend, to treat her friends somewhat poorly.

Sutton and Kat encounter problems and their stories are about how they push through them. Jane encounters problems and her stories are about experiencing those problems (and to a lesser extent, mining them for content).

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That’s not to say that there’s not worthwhile stuff here. Katie Steven does fine work; her uncomfortable scene with Doctor Boyfriend is particularly good, and her deadpan line to Alex about telling Sutton about her gyno visit is aces. But compared to Sutton and Kat’s slight-by-comparison storylines, it’s a bit frustrating. Sutton needs to make a photo studio look like a bar for a couple hundred books (not doable when also buying a piano, by the way, unless they had walls ready to go—which I suppose isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but I digress.) Kat signs a contract without reading it (raise your hand if you yelled HAVE A LAWYER LOOK AT IT at the screen) and has to find a way out or around it. Both are active problems, solved actively. Jane just thinks, with the help of other people, until she’s got the right angle for a story.

Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your perspective), this story continues, and in stronger fashion.

Season 2, Episode 9: “Trippin” — Grade: B+

What’s satisfying about “Trippin” is that we see a new side of Jane. She’s still sorting out her feelings like the world is her journal, but she reaches a place of “oh fuck it” and starts dealing with all those many feelings in a way likely familiar to many of us: by making some poor choices and being kind of snide about them. And also by hitting the vape pen she finds in the glove box of a car belonging to Kat’s rich-ass psychologist parents.

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Better still, her story is both slightly more active—she’s got to get the hell out of town and think about something else for awhile, so she does—and not central. Instead, we get a Sutton-centric story, and it’s a great one.

Alcoholism can be a tricky subject in fiction. Too often it’s either all bad (bad drunk mom, violent drunk dad, creepy drunk guy, sloppy drunk girl, etc.) or all sadspirational—someone hits rock bottom and is inspired to pull their life together with the help of a loyal friend/loved one and some swelling music. This is nothing of the sort. Ably played by Rya Kihlstedt, Babs Brady feels every inch like someone in recovery who has to work really hard to stay (though the idea that a lifelong problem drinker would work in a bar months after quitting drinking seems like a bit of a problem). More importantly, though she’s good, the story centers firmly on Sutton, for whom these feelings are an incovenience. She needs her birth certificate, and her mother, recovered or otherwise, isn’t someone she trusts to help her get what she needs.

Clear. Active. Emotional. A hell of a showcase for Meghann Fahy, who underplays something that could easily cross over into maudlin. It’s a lovely effort. No one’s experience with a troubled or absent parent is the same, and I would never suggest that Sutton’s story is universal. But it rang true for me, for reasons both personal and critical, and it seems like another demonstration of what this show can do at its best.

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Kat’s story is simpler, but still effective; Jane’s is mostly funny, which is a nice change. The three work together beautifully to make a quietly affecting hour. If The Bold Type can keep Jane out of the weeds and keep turning out episodes like this one, it’ll be in great shape indeed.

Stray observations

  • I like Doctor Boyfriend. I like Pinstripe. I like both combinations. I have zero interest in that love triangle.
  • That said, I know the feeling of getting suspicious or confused when a partner uses your first name properly. Too real.
  • Look of the week: Every single thing Kat wore, especially the Pennsylvania ensemble.
  • Not-look of the week: It took a pretty picture, but I didn’t love the passport sweater, if I’m honest.
  • Sorry about the late review! Scheduling mix-up last week. See you in Paris next Tuesday.

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