Tuesday, July 18, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Bold Type' - Jane Draws a Connection Between Politics and Fashion in 'The Woman Behind the Clothes'

Freeform's The Bold Type - Episode 1.03 "The Woman Behind the Clothes"

Kat finds herself the victim of internet trolling when she stands up for gender inequality. Sutton thinks she may have found her dream job but worries she doesn't have what it takes to make it work. Jane pursues a story about a congresswoman but tries to find a different angle to make her voice heard.

Freeform has been going through a bit of a rough patch with its original series over the last few years. It rebranded as a network to try to appeal to a different demographic. The ABC Family name no longer fit the sensibilities of the network. And yet, Freeform has yet to launch a new show that has been a breakout hit that could redefine the entire network. Yes, some people will point to Shadowhunters as an example of a show succeeding in the Freeform era. It will produce at least three seasons. But it had a dreadful pilot that turned me off immediately. Almost every show launched under this new brand has had an awful pilot coupled with low ratings. Pretty Little Liars and The Fosters are still doing solid business. But Pretty Little Liars is now over and Freeform needs a new hit. If the ratings for the premiere were any indication, The Bold Type won't be that for Freeform. It launched in roughly the same place as most of the new additions to the lineup. And yet, it deserves to have more acclaim and buzz because it's a show that has actually been great and watchable throughout its first three episodes. It has a unique point-of-view that could come to define everything that Freeform wants to be. Its characters aren't stuck in traditional archetypes or situations either. The rhythms and setups of the show are familiar. But the actual character work is different and much more uplifting. It's a fun show to watch. But it's also keenly smart and unexpected in some truly great and surprising ways too.

So, Jane is a neurotic writer who wants to do a good job at her dream job and impress the boss she admires very much. It's a familiar character. One that isn't too different from the character Katie Stevens playing on MTV's Faking It actually. And yet, her central journey is much more about her learning the demands of this new job while figuring out her identity as a writer. Every episode so far has featured her tackling a new piece. They've all had the same structure of her being unsure in the beginning only to find a new perspective that makes the article unique in the end. It's a journey of self discovery that has been very enriching to watch. The first two stories were about sex and relationships. She had to find closure after a bad breakup and accept the fact that she's never had an orgasm. They are topics that have caught her by surprise. She's had to bear her personal feelings for this job. It's gotten very intimate very quickly. But that's rewarding because the more personal she gets the better the work she does.

Jane's story in "The Woman Behind the Clothes" is completely different because she doesn't want to get pigeonholed as that type of writer who only talks about sex and relationships. She wants to tackle serious subject matter too. She wants to take risks because that's what Jacqueline really respects and responds to. So, she pivots to a political story. It's clear that the show isn't afraid to discuss real-life issues and politics while having its own unique and fun spin on them. It may be a bit simplistic of the show to draw a correlation between politics and fashion as a way to spin the story. And yet, it is a part of our culture. It's something that people need to be aware of because of the ways technology is changing the way we communicate with one another. This hour tackles technology in some interesting ways. Some subvert expectations and some don't. Jane finding the unique spin on her story largely just feels like her needing to get a resolution that leads to her once again writing a successful story. That's been the same for every episode so far. Again, this is a fun and positive show. Yes, it presents challenges for its characters but it enjoys giving them happy and successful endings so far. That could grow tiring after awhile. But for now, it still works - though a little less than the first two episodes.

Elsewhere, Sutton is the assistant dreaming of a better life and job within this company but clashing with her boss who doesn't seem to take her seriously. The relationship between boss and employee is really interesting in this show. Sutton isn't the personal assistant to Jacqueline, who has been the complete opposite of what one might think in this story. Usually, the boss is an over-the-top character who needs things done a certain way and everyone else has to react to their eccentricities. With Jacqueline though, she wants others to succeed. She has been really encouraging and insightful in helping them through their struggles. Meanwhile, Lauren has been more of the bitch boss demanding her green juice all of the time. But even there, the show subverts the expectation in the end with her wanting to help Sutton get the job in the fashion department of the magazine. It comes after a pretty conventional story of Sutton trying to juggle the demands of being an assistant to two different people. But it's still so rewarding to see her succeed in the end. No one truly knows that she designed the look that everyone loves. But it's still validating for her personally. She doesn't need the praise or recognition. Yes, it will help her get the job in the end. But right now, it's important for her to believe in herself and see all of that hard work actually pay off. That's empowering.

And finally, Kat seems like a traditional character as well. Someone who is completely confident in most aspects of her life but is also thrown by some new and unexpected personal feelings. Her dynamic with Adena has defined so much of her story so far. But here, Adena only pops up briefly through text messages. The rest of the time the story is about Kat and how she is completely thrown by Internet trolls. There have been so many stories over the past few years about the perils of anonymous comments online. How it's empowering to hide behind the anonymity, that people shouldn't engage with it and that it shouldn't be taken all that seriously. All of those beats are covered in this story as well. But the show tries to dig deeper with it too. This is something that Kat knows is out there because of her job in the social media department. She believes it's not a big deal when her article starts getting all of this attention. But it slowly wears her down. It's to the story's benefit that this is an hourlong show. It has the time to truly develop into something that is capable of being more insightful than the typical broad story. Kat starts confident and is slowly broken by these trolls getting nude pictures of her and her address. It's quite a spiral that leaves her incapable of doing her job. But with this being a safe and healthy work environment, she is allowed the time to fall apart and rise again. She's not judged or criticized for having this reaction. That's very significant. It shows that this is a part of modern-day life as twisted as it is. There needs to be a better conversation about how to handle it when it happens to someone in a position like this. Kat needed that sense of comfort from her community in order to rise again with a truly insightful campaign. Yes, it does play as an easy resolution to the story so that it never has to be relevant again in the future. But it works incredibly well regardless.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Woman Behind the Clothes" was written by Justin W. Lo and directed by Tara Nicole Weyr.
  • Meghann Fahy and Sam Page have some amazing chemistry. In fact, most of the casting of the couples here is excellent. As a couple, they seem to be the most important just because the two actors are series regulars. Plus, a story with them has been featured in every episode so far. Richard is entirely supportive of Sutton's dreams. But I'm also intrigued to see a story with him that has little to do with this romance.
  • Jane and Ryan's romance is slowly heating up as well. They clash because they are two writers who work for different magazines and have different perspectives on similar issues. But it's also not surprising that Jane gets upset about an article he's writing just because of the headline. The headline is purposefully deceitful too in order to appeal to a larger audience. Something that Jane is a little slow to realize.
  • Adena doesn't respond to Kat's messages about death threats until she has already figured everything out. But she does have news that she wants to share with her in person. The audience doesn't know what it is. We'll have to wait until the next episode, which is a somewhat manipulative cliffhanger if just a minor one too.
  • Melora Hardin has been so great as Jacqueline. It's so completely different from her role on Amazon's Transparent. But she's still excellent. I want to spend more time with Jacqueline. I want to explore her life and what it's like being the woman in charge of this magazine in 2017. She can be so much more than just the encouraging face for these up-and-coming women.
  • Alex is the only character whom I don't have a good read on just yet. He hasn't been too important to the story so far. He's friendly to the other characters but that's about it. I think he's a writer in a position of some authority? But I'm not completely sure of the function he has on the show yet.