The last TV Team roundtable we did was for Jane the Virgin, which I mentioned at the time was the only show all of us watch — but behold! Summer is here and The Bold Type is back and here’s another series we’re all invested in! Kayla recapped all of season one last year and Natalie wrote about the highs and lows in our end-of-year TV wrap-up and now we’re going to dig into our feelings together.
Heather: We’re two episodes into season two of The Bold Type and it’s already very gay, but I want to back up for just a second and touch on how you felt watching season one. I watched it live from day one and what I remember most about that season was how it was the first TV that surprised and delighted me after Trump was elected. It was bright and feel-goody and feminist-ish and queerer than I’d allowed myself to dream it could be. How did everyone else feel when they were watching it the first time?
Natalie: I’d just finished reading Janet Mock’s second memoir, Surpassing Certainty, when I started watching The Bold Type. In hindsight, that book — in which Mock writes about navigating the New York publishing world as a young woman of color — set a lot of expectations for the world Kat, Sutton and Jane would inhabit. Things I noticed right away from the pilot, like the importance of friendship and mentorship, echoed what Mock detailed in her book. While I was fully prepared for all the ways in which The Bold Type was inherently feminist and queer, because I’d seen that world through Janet Mock’s eyes first, I was frankly surprised by how nice it was. You watch The Bold Type expecting Miranda Priestly, not Jacqueline Carlyle. It seemed at once wholly inauthentic and, yet, very necessary, both for the characters and for the viewers. We all needed that kind of nurturing environment, following the 2016 election.
Valerie Anne: I genuinely did not expect to like this show. I was going to give it a shot, because Freeform shows had been trending queer, and because I loved the three main actresses from their previous works, but it was about a fashion magazine. Like Natalie said, I was expecting Miranda Priestly and I didn’t think I could endure that week after week. But I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I loved every minute. As someone who has close friends I met through work, and also just a lot of close female friendships in general, the trio felt very fun and realistic and just the right amount of dramatic. Their fights aren’t the end of their friendship, their inside jokes come up again (Tiny Jane!), they support each other and love each other and they brought me so much joy.
Carmen: I just wanted to push in quickly and stand up for Miranda Priestly!! That is easily one of my Top 10 Meryl Streep performances! I’ve watched Devil Wears Prada at least once or twice a year for over a decade now. It’s timeless! Ok. Pardon the interruption. Back to the topic at hand.
Heather: I’ll also interrupt to say that I can’t remember the real Miranda Priestly due to the sheer amount of Andy/Miranda fan fiction I’ve read. (I’m sorry.) (No, I’m not.)
Kayla: I loved The Bold Type almost immediately. I’m a sucker for the kind of feel-good vibes of this show. Tonally, it reminded me a lot of Faking It or Awkward. Plus, I have long loved Melora Hardin, and Jacqueline is a total Mommi. So I guess what I’m saying is that I was instantly hooked by a lot of the surface-level details. Then The Bold Type got queer, and I was like okay, yup, we’re in deep now.
I like what Natalie says about Surpassing Certainty, because I believe I had recently read the book, too. One of my consistent frustrations with the show has been the ways it breaks from reality in its portrayal of the media world. It’s how I imagine advertisers feel when watching Mad Men or assassins feel when watching Killing Eve. For some reason, we all want our work lives to be accurately portrayed on television. Do you know how many lawyers/law students yell at me in the comments of my How To Get Away With Murder reviews because I failed to mention that something was not believable?!? That said, while I sometimes do roll my eyes at some of the way publishing and internet culture is portrayed on The Bold Type, I’m usually super willing to forgive so long as the story works and the character development is solid.
And I want to echo what everyone has sort of been saying, it’s also just such a NICE show, which is very soothing these days. For the most part, I felt good when watching season one.
Carmen: Hey hey! I’m excited to be the third member of the Surpassing Certainty Fan Club! I was also reading Janet Mock’s latest work last summer while watching The Bold Type, though I didn’t necessarily connect the two before now. Looking back I wonder how that changed or set up my expectations, particularly as it relates to Kat as a mixed race black woman working at Scarlet.
I actually wasn’t planning on watching or loving The Bold Type; I didn’t start the show until about halfway through the summer, after Autostraddle’s constant coverage and outpouring of love. A weekend binge later, and I was HOOKED! It’s the exact kind of joy filled, bubbly, girl power-infused YA drama that I’ll never get tired of. I remember thinking, “Oh my god! This is like Devil Wears Prada and The Babysitter’s Club had a kickass feminist baby!!” At that moment I knew, I was a goner.
Riese: I liked it — I love shows that prioritize female friendships over romances and I loved the queer storyline. But I didn’t love it quite as much as everybody else did, largely due to my inability to just chill and enjoy life without internally screaming about the improbability of Jane’s career. Also, Jane is Karma Ashcroft to me forever, I’m sorry. But — I found myself STOKED as hell for Season Two. So maybe I loved it more than I wanted to admit to myself, despite Jane’s career. It’s just very fun and full of colors and girls and laughter and light and power lesbians who are for some reason heterosexual.
Heather: I’m surprisingly unbothered by most of the publishing industry stuff, but I love being in a room with Riese when she’s watching this show because that part drives her bonkers. Once The Bold Type hinted at a queer storyline for Kat, I expected, at most, three episodes of her exploring her sexuality. After that I thought probably she’d never mention anything about queerness ever again, so boi was I shocked when her relationship with Adena took a season-long turn. And in a lot of ways it was the emotional anchor of season one. Sutton and Richard were never gonna last and Jane was written to choose her career, so the main rom-com beats being hit by a biracial bisexual character really just blew my mind. I was even more shocked to see Adena coming back for season two. What about y’all?
Valerie Anne: Once I saw how hard Aisha and Nikohl were going in on social media I knew their story would at least be more than a fleeting moment; I had followed Aisha back during her Chasing Life days and I trusted her not to lead me astray. That said, The Bold Type still continues to surprise me with how front and center their relationship has been. It feels like a new story. Whether or not it will continue to be a good story is anyone’s guess, but so far I’m really enjoying it.
Natalie: I wasn’t shocked to see Adena come back — Nikohl Boosheri is a talent that you don’t let get away — but when it was announced back in January that she was being bumped to series regular, I did wonder how it would work from a storytelling perspective. Adena’s immigration status added a layer of complexity to this love story. It was important to me, especially at this political moment we’re in, for that aspect of the story to maintain its authenticity, even if it meant curtailing Kadena’s story. In real life, sadly that’s the way it works sometimes. The jury’s still out on how they’ll handle her immigration status this season.
Heather: Right, and they klunked that in with some exposition in the first episode of this season, that that’s still a huge factor in their relationship.
Carmen: Let me tell you what I loved (and still love) about Kat and Adena’s relationship – it’s two women of color in love together on television. Do you know how rare that is?? Most often when a woman of color is in a gay romance, her partner is white. And I want to be clear, I’m not hating on any of those romances – on television or in life. But, there’s a trend there and it’s thus far leaned in only one direction. That’s not reflective of the whole story.
Riese: Yes, as you [Carmen] already know because I can’t stop talking about fascinating data as I gather it, I’ve been working on a post on this topic for about eight months that, who knows, I might finish one day. Here’s a teaser for y’all reading this: in 2017, 34 out of the 51 U.S.-aired shows that included LGBQ female regular/recurring characters of color included wlw romantic storylines or love interests (exes or present-day partners). Of those, 9 involved a QPOC regular/recurring character with a QPOC guest character and only FOUR involved a QPOC regular/recurring character with a QPOC regular/recurring character. Kat and Adena were one of those four.
Carmen: Exactly. I also love Adena; I find that I relate to her a lot easier than I relate to Kat. She’s open and defiantly proud of her identities, even when their intersections rub against each other uneasily. I love that. I also don’t think I’ve ever seen a Muslim lesbian on television. The scene when Adena first talked about her choice to wear a hijab is burned in my memory forever. It’s important. I think I’ve talked about this statistic before, but six in ten Americans do not personally know a Muslim person, which means that the interactions we have with Muslim characters in television or film play an important role in shaping our views of Islam. It almost goes without saying, but the vast majority of those portrayals are unfairly negative. Adena’s as a fully drawn, loving, strong willed, justice oriented, Muslim lesbian feminist artist. She disrupts our presumed narratives. She matters. I was absolutely overjoyed to find out she had been bumped up to a series regular for the second season!
Heather: However shocked I was that Adena came back for season two, nothing could have prepared me for the first episode. My idea of lesbian sex on Freeform is basically just all the straight couples on Pretty Little Liars going at it while Alison and Emily rub their ankles together — and this was not that.
Valerie Anne: They talked! About oral sex! Between two women! On TV!! And about enjoying it!!! I thought I was having a fever dream. Adena being like, “Just being able to talk about it is enough” almost made me dizzy with excitement. So then when they actually showed the two of them having sex, and it wasn’t supercut with naked dudes or straight sex, I was bowled right over.
Riese: I don’t feel like it’s a coincidence that Michelle Badillo (of One Day at a Time) was a writer for that episode — I felt very acutely that the person telling this story knew how to tell it.
Natalie: When Pretty Little Liars debuted, they were still part of ABC Family, which, I think, set certain “standards” for how lesbian intimacy would be depicted. When ABC Family changed to Freeform — which coincided with the premiere of the second half of Pretty Little Liars’ sixth season — that show didn’t evolve, even as the network and the target audience did. That network change over mercifully ended Pretty Little Liars’ run (and, sadly, probably also doomed The Fosters), but birthed a new era of television where we get to see a show like The Bold Type or grown-ish engaging with sex and sexuality in a real way.
To speak to The Bold Type specifically, I think this show is at its best when it tells simple, yet authentic stories and that sex scene between Kat and Adena, along with the conversations that preceded and followed it, are just more evidence of that.
Carmen: When Adena blurted out “you won’t go down on me” in the middle of Kat’s work party, I choked on the popcorn I was eating! Literally choked! I was so unprepared for the turn we were about to take. And my goodness, what a beautiful journey to be on! Yes, having Kat and Adena find the words to talk about their sexual relationship was important, but do you know what really moved me? Kat admitting that she wasn’t sure how to give head! I remember being a newly out “baby gay” and the entire thing was a bundle of nerves and missteps! It always bothers me when a show has a character come out, and then boom! They have a beautiful girlfriend and a perfect sex life. That… was very far from my life experience, to put it mildly. It’s okay not to be sure. It’s okay to have doubts. It’s okay to make mistakes and fix them. I’m so thankful that The Bold Type was willing to show that.
I also loved that Kat’s friends, even though they are straight, were there to support her! They weren’t grossed out or went “ewww” or made unnecessary jokes. They treated Kat’s grappling with sex with Adena the same way they dealt with any of their other conversations about straight sex in season one. Those models of good allyship are important on television. And Sutton and Jane basically ran over each other to get the hot “morning after” details the next day! Which was perfectly adorable and perfectly them. I loved it all.
(Also, showing women – with their bras actually off – going down on each other on non-streaming TV? Way to go, Freeform! Kudos to you! Let’s hope other networks take the same step forward and be similarly brave.)
Heather: One of the things Kayla and Natalie both talked about last year were The Bold Type‘s missteps with regards to portraying people of color, both with Kat and with Alex. This week’s “Rose Colored Glasses” kind of tried to address that, but, as Kayla mentioned in her recap, they really bit off more than they could chew.
Natalie: Obviously, as someone who had a really substantial critique about this show and how it failed to grapple with Kat’s racial identity at all, I was glad that the production team recognized that it was a legitimate issue that they needed to address. If you’re in a writers’ room with people who aren’t people of color and who aren’t biracial, it’s natural that you’d have blind spots, so I’ll give them credit for at least trying to address it. But, ultimately, it felt like a swing and a miss for me.
I will say that the story about Kat’s white mother not being recognized as a Kat’s mother had resonance with me because I’ve been through that myself. I’m the product of an interracial marriage — my mom’s white and my father’s black — and there were a lot of times growing up that my mom and I dealt with similar situations, like when my mom would come to school and she was foisted on one of the white kids because they assumed she was their parent.
Carmen: I definitely agree! I think that’s something that a lot of mixed race or biracial kids deal with. My mom’s Puerto Rican and quite a few shades lighter than me. Growing up, more than once people asked me if she was my mom. (Though my mom’s reaction to it was never to ignore the elephant in the room, which was what it felt like was going on with Kat’s mother, but I could see how that gut reaction could happen.)
Kayla: Yeah parts of that resonated for me, too. My parents have an interracial marriage as well; my mom’s white and my dad’s Indian, and I’ve definitely had people question whether my mom was my mom or not. But, I felt a little weird about that part of the conversation ONLY being centered on the mom? It seemed a bit like Kat’s mom may be reluctant for Kat to identify as black for kind of selfish reasons. I wish the show could have pushed back against that a bit more. They could have had Kat say something or have her mom make a bigger statement about how this shouldn’t be just about her feelings.
Carmen: Yes! I felt like I got very little of Kat’s feelings. It was a lot of other people (Alex, Adena, her parents) telling Kat what THEY felt about her race. She became a blank slate for their anxieties. I would have liked to see more of her expressing her own complicated feelings, on her own terms.
Natalie: The other issue I had with it, and Kayla talks about this in her recap, is how they used Alex.
Carmen: I’ve always felt very neutral about Alex.
Natalie: I don’t have a particular feeling about him either way but that’s part of the problem, right? Because you’re not supposed to have feelings about him… he’s just the magical negro who’s there to aid whichever of the leads he’s paired with that week. He’s a plot device.
Carmen: Yeah, that’s a fair critique. He’s perfunctory. That said, I think out of everyone, he’s the only one who could broached this subject with Kat.
Still, I wish they had handled it better. The framing of their conversation left the audience to think that Alex, as a mouthpiece representative of people of color, would force Kat to choose. That felt inauthentic and really left me uncomfortable. Take a look at someone like Meghan Markle and the outpouring of love that women of color, and particularly black women, have given her (or hell – look at the same thing with Barack Obama)! There isn’t a secret covert ops of POC asking mixed folks to “choose a team.”
Kayla: The show could have said “hey, look, you don’t have to choose between your identities.” It just didn’t go there at all. Instead they rather explicitly suggested that Kat had to choose between being biracial and being black. She could have said both in her bio!
Natalie: I say both in mine!
Kayla: These are the nuances that The Bold Type doesn’t seem to understand.
Carmen: Hey! I just realized that I also have both in my writer’s bio as well! And I guess that’s one of the things that bothered me most: we’ve all made these negations surrounding our identity. It strains credibility that Kat just plain never thought about it – that she hasn’t found her own path and subsequent comfortability or uncomfortability by the age she is now.
I appreciate that the writers looked back at the world they created in season one and tried to figure out how to make sense of Kat in the way she was already written. Since they already gave Kat those blind spot about her race, they had to acknowledge them as the blind spots they were.That’s the tricky part of a retcon. You can only try to “course correct” the mistake, there’s no way to erase it to begin with.
Riese: I read that the storyline was inspired partially by Aisha Dee’s own experience. I obviously can’t speak to that myself because I am white! But what felt off to me was what I perceived to be the show framing Adena as the crazy over-political one for disagreeing with Kat’s position. That was when I felt like a value judgment was being made, although I may have been not affording good faith. It does seem like sometimes there can be a huge gulf between the life experiences of actors (who are usually way hotter and richer than normal people) who are participating in crafting stories about their character’s identities (sexual orientation, race, religion, etc) and the life experiences of the ordinary people with those identities who watch those stories.
Carmen: Yes, I read that as well. I definitely don’t want to speak for Aisha Dee or over her experience. I can only say that, whatever Aisha Dee shared with the writers’ room – while no doubt important – did not seem to come across fluidly or productively in the final product of the episode. I always applaud writers’ rooms for acknowledging their own potential shortcomings when crafting a story, and leaning on their actors or other consultants for life experience to fill in those gaps. However, I sometimes worry about the dangerous potential of using one of the few actors of color in a production as a shield against the writing. (Which I totally know you weren’t doing, Riese! But it still has to be said out loud).
Riese: It does, yes!
Heather: What are your hopes for the show and for Kat and for Adena for the rest of the season?
Carmen: I know that The Bold Type is under a new showrunner this year and that’s going to me some new changes to my favorite summer sophomore. I can live with that, as long as the core of what’s made a show such a delight thus far doesn’t change – namely, its Spice Girls-style, bubbly fun, in your face, “Girl Power” feminist undertones. Well that, and the strength of the relationship between Jane, Sutton, and Kat (along with their mentor relationship with Jacqueline, of course). If it can maintain its overall tone and the power of those female relationships, I’m willing to take a chance on most anything else. I think that the first two episodes were off to a good start!
For Kat and Adena, I want more romantic goodness. Give me date nights and dinners! Give me domestic bliss! Okay, so those things are corny and don’t always make for great TV. I get that. And I don’t want them all the time, but I do think that these two women of color deserve some happiness. I hope that The Bold Type gives it to them. Now that she’s a series regular, I’d also like to see more of Adena interacting with the rest of crew beyond Kat. What would be her relationship dynamics with Sutton or Jane? I’m curious and hope we get to find out!
OH! And more Jacqueline! Always, Always more Jacqueline!
Valerie Anne: I want more of what’s working — Kat talking to Jane and Sutton about their relationship, having hurdles to overcome but overcoming them together, and so on — but also I think this show would be the perfect place to showcase the things I always wish I saw when women date women on TV but rarely do. Like having Kat bump up against differences in the way she talks about her relationship vs. what Jane and Sutton have experienced, or just the occasional struggles of being queer and having straight friends. Having Kat and Adena make new queer friends that they spend time with for more than one Special Gay Bar Episode. I think there could be some teachable moments but also a lot of fun to be had, both separate from the main plotlines, but also tangled up in them.
Natalie: Yeah, agree with Carmen for the most part. This show was fortunate, in my view, to earn a second (and third!) season — though there was a lot of critical support for The Bold Type, the ratings were not that great, and I imagine that part of the job of the new showrunner will be to find a way to bring those numbers up. I hope Amanda Lasher can find a way to do that while still holding firm to what makes this show so special.
(Free idea, Amanda: a summer internship for Zoey Johnson at Scarlet magazine? Why send Zoey to work at the actual Teen Vogue when you’ve got a fake Teen Vogue on The Bold Type so desperately in need of promotion? The show would get the benefit of Yara Shahidi’s star power to boost the ratings and it’d be a nice piece of synergy for two great Freeform brands. It just makes so much sense.)
(At the very least, someone’s got to write that fanfic crossover.)
As for Kat and Adena, I hope that they just continue to be as beautifully authentic as they have been. I’d like to see more interaction between the Adena, Jane and Sutton… perhaps even going on a double date with Jane and the doctor from episode one (or Pinstripe when he makes his inevitable return). I’d like to see more of Adena — mostly because I can never get enough Nikohl Boosheri, but also because what she represents on this show is so important. I hope we get to learn more about her, perhaps even meet some of her friends, and see her navigate through the immigration process.
Heather: I agree with both of you! In one of Kayla’s early recaps, she made the point that The Bold Type knows what it’s about, in the sense that it knows it doesn’t exist in the world with so much of the “prestige” TV about women critics celebrate these days. It’s not Orange Is the New Black, It’s not The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s not about the perpetually dark night of the soul and all the way women’s bodies are consumed and tortured and discarded. Right and I mean there’s a place for that, but this is not that. This is a show, as so many of you have said, that’s nice and fun and meant to be empowering to women. (I almost said “young women,” but I’m 39 and it’s empowering to me too.) The Bold Type didn’t shy away from Trump last season or his administration’s horrifying impact on the world, but these women lived and loved anyway. I want to feel good sometimes when I’m watching TV, and The Bold Type consistently does that for me. I want more of it.
And I just want Kat and Adena to be safe and fulfilled and happy and I don’t care if that’s not realistic for a serialized story, IT’S WHAT I WANT.