The Unicorn Scale: The Bold Type

10/19/2017

Hello lovelies! It’s fall – that fabulous time of year filled with stylish boots, pumpkin spice overload, and delicious television seasons kicking off. And this month I wanted to keep the good times rolling with joyously fun and out-and-proud bi representation available with a channel flip. And why not? With the world news cycles where they are right now, we need to get our jollies where we can. Chalk it up to self-care – I’ll never tell.

This Unicorn Scale edition covers my newest, happiest TV obsession – “The Bold Type,” with the first season fully available on Freeform (previously known as ABC Family.) The show is inspired by the life of Joanna Coles and her life as an editor-in-chief at Cosmopolitan. This frothy, fashionable, blisteringly smart comedy-drama centers on the adventures of Jane, Sutton, and Kat, three twentysomething women working at Scarlet, a global women’s magazine. (Fun note: the magazine operates under the umbrella of a fictional Steinem Publishing company – nice nod to Gloria!) These hip working girls hold jobs under the supportive, watchful eye of Jacqueline, an editor-in-chief with all the strappy-heeled, quiet  confidence of Miranda Priestley but none of the stereotypical cattiness.

Oh, and this all happens while constantly citing feminist writing icons as inspiration.

Word to the wise: I’m gonna throw out a few spoilers as I catalogue Kat’s development, so please read no further if you want to discover everything on your own with this refreshingly fun show. Oh, and if you need a reminder about what the Unicorn Scale is all about, please click here.

So why is this series showing up in this corner of the internet? In this review I’m focusing on the queerness development of Kat, the magazine’s social media director, as she catches feelings for Adena, a Muslim lesbian photographer.

What I Liked:

Oh my gosh, so much to love about this show! Every episode, every female character, every relationship blows way past the Bechdel test and Mako Mori test with gleeful abandon. Our three heroines are three-dimensional, unapologetically feminist and woke in their work and lives, and unfailingly supportive of each other – all qualities more often the exception than the rule in media. These women of the Rose Gold Generation are sex-empowered and respectful of each other and the people around them, but that doesn’t keep them from making relatable mistakes. I genuinely cried for them and cheered them on throughout the series. And on top of it all, the girls don fun, workable fashion that is eye-catching but not distracting from the story (note to self: raid Jane’s earring collection.) It hits all the rom-com buttons of a fashion movie and keeps up dramatic tension between the girls without making it nasty – that’s a tough balance to strike, especially while strutting in snappy Jimmy Choos.

But what surprised me most of all is we got a full-fledged bi identity emergence and relationship from newly-questioning Kat. This baby bi and Adena have multiple held gazes, waffle on feelings and intentions, and come across lots of the trappings of people grappling with coming out as they develop their relationship.

Kat and Adena

Both Kat and Adena are fully-developed characters, with personalities, dreams, fears, and as much agency as they can grab in this modern world. Kat does start off declaring to Adena that she is an “out and proud hetero,” but as the series progresses her mind and heart are clearly tugged in a different direction. She’s not perfect in her development – at one point she mistakenly tweets that “this lesbian shit is intense” but then immediately calls out her homophobic behavior after deleting it. Kat also gets hung up on how sexual encounters with people other than men occur below the belt. And she can, by her own admission, be cowardly in some of her approaches to confrontation. But she also has redeeming characteristics – she’s a badass at work, will physically defend Adena if it comes down to a fight, and works through her fears and insecurities to be with her.

And the relationship isn’t a one-off to queer-bait the audience.

Rarer still that this narrative centers on not one, but two queer people of color in a main storyline. I had read the romantic subplot unfolds the first four episodes, but I was delighted to find out “they” who wrote that assessment were wrong. There was a (glorious, beautiful) first kiss at the end of the fourth episode between Kat and Adena, but that was not the end of their story. At all. We got a full, beautiful arc with a possible cliffhanger for future seasons for these two women, which felt satisfying and kept me guessing.

Not only that, but Adena and Kat’s friends are pretty patient and supportive of her newly emerging identity. Adena does not erase her bisexuality – though at one point she wonders if Kat is questioning them being together because of it being a same-sex relationship. Jane and Sutton barely skip a beat, asking casually when they set up a group dating app if Kat wants to seek men or women in that moment. Their concern with Kat’s confusion is about her emotional state, not about who she is strung out on.

And throughout the series, Kat comments on the beauty of multiple genders – in a comically intimate moment with Jane realizing how beautiful the female form is, while still happily flirting with men and going on dates with them. This is a rare orientation balance for a queer person, even on modern television – and I relished every moment of it.

What I Didn’t Like:

Ahem. Please plug your digital ears: WHY CAN’T THEY USE THE WORD BI?

I’m so over this hang-up, especially with a show that checks so many other boxes regarding this identity. Maybe because it’s some people’s tendency to be more comfortable with the term “queer,” but even that term doesn’t appear on the show. At one point Kat even says, “Gay, straight, I don’t think it matters.” Maybe it wouldn’t matter if the writers didn’t give her such binary language to work with.

Also, and this is just me being nitpicky because I’ve been personally examining this usage lately, but there is a lot of ableist language at play here. “Stupid,” “lame,” “stand with ___” are all terms used throughout the episodes. Add “insane” and “crazy” to this list and you get dismissive terms for mental health as well.

I have a feeling if this issue got addressed with the writers they would adjust accordingly, but it certainly cropped up a lot.

Other than those points, I enjoyed this show so much it was hard to find other faults that stuck out.

The Rating:

Sometimes searching for bi representation feels like grasping for crumbs, but Kat’s journey was so well-developed I stopped writing down examples to cite (which is how it should be!) Fully developed will-they-won’t-they bi stories are rare, and this one was exceptional. The whole show is so good it makes me want to pinch this story’s digital cheeks. I encourage everyone who wants to see truly strong, modern women dominate the screen to binge this show as soon as possible.

“The Bold Type” is bi in everything but name, and for that I give it three-and-a-half unicorns. Maybe in the next few seasons (it just got picked up for two more), Kat will claim her identity and the back-end of that unicorn emoji. Because being fully bi is always in style.

Jennie Roberson

Jennie Roberson is an actress and screenwriter who resides in Los Angeles. She recently completed her first novel, a bisexual young adult caper. When she’s not busy playing incredibly dorky sports or dreaming of forming her own cat army, you can find more of her musings at @JennieRoberson on Twitter.