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TV Review: ‘The Bold Type,’ From Former Cosmo Editor Joanna Coles

Variety logo Variety 6/20/2017 Sonia Saraiya
© Provided by Variety

There’s something fresh and energetic about Freeform’s new teen drama “The Bold Type,” following a trio of young women trying to make their mark at the women’s lifestyle magazine they all work for. The fictional magazine, called Scarlet, is an homage to real-life industry icon Cosmopolitan — former editor-in-chief Joanna Coles is an executive producer of “The Bold Type,” and the show markets itself as being based on her experiences.

But Coles wasn’t navigating the finer points of sexting and SnapChat while running a company Twitter account, which is what the leads of “The Bold Type” are juggling with surprising aplomb. Jane (Katie Stevens) is the bright-eyed dreamer, now a staff writer after four years as an assistant. Her first assignment is to stalk her ex — without the help of social media. Sutton (Meghann Fahy) is still an assistant, but has plenty to think about: The executive she’s having a clandestine affair with, played by Sam Page, is messaging her about her lacy underwear while she’s supposed to be answering calls. And Kat (Aisha Dee), Scarlet’s social media director, is trying to get the magazine to be more political, citing social shares and Twitter traffic as reasons to follow through on riskier interviews with controversial figures.

As should be the case for a show about young women and aimed at teenagers, a lot of “The Bold Type” is about the frothy but endlessly captivating drama of dating and texting and trying not to make your boss too upset. Magazines aren’t what they used to be, but for a generation that is exponentially more media-savvy than their parents, the grammar of presentation and posting — of likes and shares — is so obvious as to be inherent. The three lead characters live in that boundary-free world that we all increasingly live in — where the lines between social and private, personal and political are harder and harder to locate.

But as is to be expected given Coles’ perspective, “The Bold Type” is about three women beginning the process of building their careers. There’s something almost throwback about how Jane, Kat, and Sutton are the epitome of the ‘80s “career girl,” living in the big city and working at a company so chic that it’s too hot to handle. And though it is cheesily “empowering” — in that capitalistic, slightly silly way that seems to be designed just to sell shoes — it’s also kind of cool to see young women bring their own idealistic expectations to the reality of a publishing institution, whether that’s through politics or relationships or the craft of writing. Scarlet is trying to do good things, but it’s still a flawed institution, and in the first episode both Jane and Kat have to struggle with loving their jobs, but not liking what they have to put up with.

Melora Hardin plays Scarlet’s editor-in-chief —a mix between Coles and Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada.” She’s intimidating, but encouraging; a much better boss, but a much less captivating character than Meryl Streep’s take on Anna Wintour.

Still, it’s fun, if this type of fun is your cup of tea. It’s of course bordering on ridiculous, how effortlessly glamorous everything around Scarlet is; the trio of leads are always dressed to the nines, as if they’ve never even heard of New York’s high rent. But Kat especially makes for a charming, bold character — and the chemistry between the girls is neither saccharine nor unbelievable. It doesn’t have the streak of darkness that Freeform’s flagship “Pretty Little Liars” does. But “The Bold Type” makes up for it with a lot of go-girl vim that would make Helen Gurley Brown proud.

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