Come on, if you’re being really honest with yourself, you kinda knew what you were doing.
Say what you will about The Bold Type—and I could say plenty, most of it positive—its heart is nearly always in the right place. This has the odd effect of making its missteps sometimes even more apparent. When its writers decide to really explore an issue or question relevant to the moment, they encourage the audience to think about that issue or question, to pick away at it and see what emerges, and that requires scrutiny. Sometimes, as with the series-best “Carry The Weight,” the show holds up to that scrutiny. Sometimes, as with “Stroke Of Genius,” the results are mixed, at best.
The effort, though, is worthy of admiration. “Stroke Of Genius” is an oddly plucked-from-the-sort-of-recent-headlines kind of episode, seemingly taking its inspiration from Kristen Roupenian’s short story “Cat Person,” which went viral after being published in the New Yorker, as well as the allegations of sexual intimidation leveled against Aziz Ansari. It places Matt Ward’s Alex, a character the series has rarely known what to do with, at the center of this story, setting him on a course that will likely prove frustrating for many viewers.
I’m among that group. His defensive, disbelieving, and even petulant reaction to the revelation that a woman had a sexual encounter with him in which she felt pressured into sex, and in a relationship which contained a power imbalance, put me on my guard immediately. So did the plain and simple fact that it’s a story like that one, seemingly focused on how the man feels. (That goes double, maybe triple, for Jane’s “Let’s not generalize” out of nowhere; Jane remains kind of the worst.) But after some reflection (and a re-watch), it’s clear that his reaction is a feature, not a bug. The story here is of a guy, a nice guy, who, finding himself confronted with his own toxic and troubling behavior, reacts as many men would. Then he stops and tries to figure out why, what it means, what he can do better, and what he can do now.
Not all of that works. Yet the biggest issue isn’t due to any actions of the character, nor to a lack of thought around the issue. It’s just clumsy writing. The women of the office are vessels he visits so that he can monologue and be monologued to, and while some of the performances are good—Meghann Fahy is, as usual, excellent, and Melora Hardin pitches everything perfectly, as she always does—the execution’s a mess. Sutton: Oh, look, Alex, I should talk to him, that was weird earlier. Alex: Oh, look, Jane, I should talk to her about this casually at work. No one’s surprised by the revelation. It’s all just chat.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make a point through storytelling. Here, among several, the biggest point seems to be that it’s up to men to own up to their own toxic patterns and then talk about them to other men (as Alex puts it, Dan Harmon, not Louis C.K.) But it’s not as simple as writing all the things you want your character to say and then finding excuses for them to say those things. and you certainly can’t ignore the emotional and intellectual responses of the character to whom your focus character is speaking. The Jacqueline scene, while not without hiccups, mostly works because it makes sense that Alex would send a story about which he’s conflicted to a mentor, and neither he, nor anyone else at Scarlet, has any reason to believe that Balance Ball has their best interests at heart.
Sutton and Jane’s stories are much simpler, though the former is successful and the latter kind of a mess (Does Jane really believe that men in relationships never masturbate? How weird was that “try not to jack off” line? So judgy!) Kat’s story, however, is another example of the show inviting scrutiny and not really being able to withstand it.
Kat’s speech is a fine one, but this Cinderella of politics thing that’s happening makes very little sense. Here, as before, the show seems to be going for a story somewhat similar to that of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, and that’s a perfect fit for this show. But her ascension is so absurd that it threatens to tank the whole episode. A passable speech at a fundraiser and that’s it?
The Bold Type should keep tackling big issues. But they’d also better start finding ways to do so and survive scrutiny all at once.
- Fahy’s brief mention of the Brooklyn apartment was a hell of a line readinng.
- Calling Ryan’s ejaculation “pisntriping” is not wordplay, it’s just lazy.
- Another reason to scoff at Jane: She hates Pistachio ice cream.