There’s something about New York, isn’t there? The city that has become, in the modern age, the very idea of the big city and the associated challenges that come with it. The various TV shows made in and around it in recent years have helped to promote that ethos. If you can make it in New York – in work, life and love – you can make it anywhere.
And with a big glamorous hole in the landscape since Sex and the City became a bit, Mean Girls and Gossip Girl became uncomfortable to watch (an episode centered around Harvey Weinstein, a cameo from Ivanka and Jared, the allegations against Ed Westwick), we were in need of another dose of Big juicy Apple glamour. So thank God for The Bold Type, whose opening shots of the pilot episode feature a trio of gangly glamazons in designer gowns bringing a bit of Gossip Girl to the Metro, a pair of former GG cast members engaged in a hot hook-up, and a bevy of pumping club tunes. This is the story of Jane (Katie Stevens), Kat (Aisha Dee) and Sutton (Meghann Fahy) – three lithe twenty-somethings looking to make their mark in the world of fashion at the Cosmo clone Scarlet magazine, and impress poised editor Jacqueline (Melora Hardin), the empress of the glossy’s hallowed halls.
But you know what else we were missing a little bit of? Mad Men – the show that made every man want to be Don Draper and every magazine tell us we want to dress like Betty, and which, with every rewatch, you realise is a far more useful Bible for women looking for a way to navigate the nightmare of office politics than it is for men looking to cheat on their wives. And that’s where The Bold Type is such a pleasant surprise. If you want your fill of the stereotypes of the dragon boss, the bitchy assistant and the young ingénue looking to prove herself, The Devil Wears Prada will sort you out. Where The Bold Type really excels is the collision of big city dreams and aspirational gloss with explorations of some of the most prominent issues of today.
With just 10 episodes, creator Sarah Watson packs a surprising amount into its first season. Trump’s travel ban, sexual assault, coming out in your mid-20s, racism, the BRCA gene, asking for what you want in bed and in a relationship, and walking away when you get neither. Sure it might seem trite to lump some of those together, and we’re not going to pretend that this is a show breaking any particularly new ground in the TV stakes (except, perhaps, for the BRCA gene episode), but for a show marketed as fashion-fluff in the vein of The Carrie Diaries, it’s not necessarily the ground you might expect the show to tread. Rather like, say, the fashion magazines of today.
Thinking of the show as a magazine is probably a good way to cover its all-round appeal and ticking of multiple boxes. The creators of Gossip Girl once said their aspiration for the series was for it to provide a Bible for New Yorkers and tourists to know where the best restaurants, bars, galleries and venues are, and who they should wear and what they should listen to while exploring them. The Bold Type does have some brilliant outfits (and yes, even for three twentysomethings they do manage to wear quite a few new ones per episodes) and some glamorous parties, but, like a magazine, it also takes time to go into the important feature stories, the sex advice columns and, crucially, the work advice columns.
Which is where the Mad Men connection does come in. While Peggy never sent a Snapchat of her bra to her boyfriend (although she did have a potential unwise tryst with a boss), The Bold Type writers do actually offer a nuanced and useful portrayal of navigating an office and a career as Mad Men did, but with a modern twist. Our three leads face the messy waters of forging a career – from negotiating a raise, pitching a big idea to the men in suits, being a good boss, knowing when an idea is good and bad (even if it’s your own), and even knowing when your dream job isn’t the right job. While watching a show featuring a 25-year-old social media director (who doesn’t know how to thread tweets) did make this writer feel a bit like a failure, it gives you hope that there’s a show aimed at the teen market that teaches them how to negotiate the complex worlds of career and relationships with the focus kept firmly on making them happy.
Ultimately, that’s what endears most about the show – seeing the supportive trio work it all out together (with the zinging wit and pithy writing that has likely helped with the news of an imminent Season 2 this summer), while other characters – exes who don’t matter, colleagues they left behind – fall to the wayside as they do in life, with the exception of Jacqueline’s matriarch, who, in a less smart show, would have been written off as a steely monster. While it doesn’t exactly strike a huge blow for diversity (we counted one named plus size character), a series showing women of various ages quietly getting the hell on with it is something that we’d definitely subscribe to.
The Bold Type: Season 1 is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.