Photo: Freeform

There’s a lot to recommend The Bold Type—solid costuming, effervescent dialogue, the continued presence of Melora Hardin, the list goes on—but there’s one central element that elevates this series more than all the rest. This is a story about three friends. These women love each other, support each other, get real damn pissed at each other, and patch things up with warmth and generosity. They’re also fun, and not simply fun to watch. It’s easy to invest in the bond between Kat, Sutton, and Tiny Jane, because they take such obvious pleasure in one another. This friendship feels lived-in. It feels earned. It feels great.

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It feels so great, in fact, that The Bold Type manages to sell all kinds of things that might otherwise ring false. With “The Breast Issue,” the series admirably tackles yet another issue that directly affects women. It’s not a completely smooth ride—as with some of the other caps-intentional Big Issues tackled thus far, it’s all a bit too easy and simple in places. But it’s hard to care. You could wish for a little more depth, a little more complication, but by the time three women sit calmly together in a doctor’s office, none of that really seems to matter. Awareness is important, but this friendship is what brings it all home.

Much of the credit there goes to Aisha Dee (Kat), Meghann Fahy (Sutton), and for this episode in particular, Katie Stevens (Jane). As good as Stevens is when Jane melts down in the bullpen—and she’s very good indeed—she and the others are always at their best when they share scenes. Jane tenses up, still smiling, when her friends approach her before she leave for her interview with the doctor. She smiles only slightly insincerely when one of Kat’s “free the nipple” speeches rubs her wrong. Her shoulders relax when her friends sit down beside her in the fashion closet. She, and the others, seem to breathe more deeply while they stand in the park, ready to hashtag free those nipples.

That level of commitment, often physical, to the pure joy of wonderful friends—it makes it easy to overlook the stuff that doesn’t run as deep. That’s not to say that “The Breast Issue” doesn’t disappoint occasionally. It’s not so much about the places it doesn’t go as how quickly it leaves those places, often leaving plenty of rich material unexplored. Jane is right to push back against Jacqueline (Hardin) when she feels she’s about to be ordered to use her mother’s death to get clicks (an oversimplification, but an understandable one). It is, after all, coming on the heels of two other pieces in which her boss pushed her to dig into some painful personal territory. Did that pushing make for better writing? Presumably, yes. Is Jane right to be wary, even angry? Yeah, that makes sense, too.

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Perhaps more unfortunate is a big missed opportunity. The CDC’s Department Of Cancer consulted on this episode, and it seems that writer Matt McGuinness was in a prime position to dig into the issue of BRCA gene testing for young women (by way of Jane’s interview with the doctor). But after the blow-up, those questions get sidelined in favor of her personal story. That’s an understandable swap, and Jane’s fear of the unknown and her willingness to stare down that gene make for the most affecting stuff of the hour, particularly in her visit to Jacqueline’s house. There’s far more right here than wrong: Many shows—most, even—would have had Jane test negative for the BCRA mutation and called it a day. Good on this show for doing the opposite, and for following up with next steps and good friends.

Still, perhaps some of the dry-cleaner hijinks could have been sacrificed for a little more substance. Please don’t mistake the above for an argument that The Bold Type shouldn’t go a little soapy from time to time (looking at you, Pinstripe). A little pulp is both unavoidable and welcome with a show like this one. It’s the lack of chemistry that sinks that particular third of “The Breast Issue.” Sure, the writers have been telegraphing the Alex (Matt Ward) and Sutton thing for a few episodes now, but world’s longest hug aside, what about their dry-cleaner excursion plays as remotely sexy or romantic? The relationships in this series work so well in general that when one doesn’t quite ring true, it stands out all the more. Jacqueline’s sit-down with Jane? Earned. Sutton’s gumption with Oliver? Earned. Kat’s challenge to Richard and Jacqueline? Earned. Taxicab romance? Not yet, show.

If that’s the only bit of clunkiness that The Bold Type can’t make forgivable, that’s quite something. Nearly everything else feels honest, from Jane’s heartbreaking moment with a strapless dress to Sutton feverishly backtracking about the expensive jewelry in her lap to Kat’s need to win eclipsing the reasons for her activism. Even Melora Hardin’s dream-boss performance doesn’t come off as a total fantasy, partly because the novelty of a character in that position evading the Devil Wears Prada archetype is still such a delight, and partly because Hardin is just so damn good. She’s the Jed Bartlet of stories about women’s magazines. It’s not quite believable, but it sure does feel right.

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What’s true of Hardin’s performance is true of this gem of a new series in general. Scarlet might feel like a daydream, and the impossible wardrobes and apartments of its employees might not read as realistic, but the people don’t play as false, and nor does their affection for each other. A little fantasy never hurt, but this depiction of female friendship is even better.

Stray observations

  • Welcome to The Bold Type coverage! I’m really excited to dig into this series. Faults aside, it’s incredibly charming, genuinely affecting, and right on time.
  • I’m really glad that they introduced the issue of Jane’s mother’s death in the pilot, rather than announcing it here. Whether this is a case of an episode emerging from the details of a character’s life, or simply good planning, it’s well done. Might have felt cheap otherwise.
  • Bless costume designer Jill M. Ohanneson for having Kat, Jane, and Sutton wear shoes (and clothes, I think?) more than once.
  • “It’s like you’re a detective, Tiny Jane.”
  • “Your self-awareness is amazing. Your parents must be really good therapists.”
  • “Sutton Brady, you Pretty Little Liar.”
  • Seriously, Jacqueline Carlyle is the Jed Bartlet of the magazine industry.
  • We can’t go back and cover the first five episodes, but please, find me on Twitter and let me know what you loved. My answer: um, lots of it, especially this. That’s friendship.

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Screenshot: Freeform