Sheila hates everyone, most especially herself. Perhaps it’s fitting that the show, Physical, is so easy to dislike.
Print may be dying, but society might have to figure out a way to keep glossy magazines going for a while anyway. Because if they go, where will hip, fictional Millennials work on television?
Sure, magazine offices might not be as popular TV workplaces as, say, bustling hospitals or urban police departments. Still, they’ve been a popular feature in movies and television for decades, and it almost feels as though their fictional popularity has risen even as newsstand sales fall.
The latest example comes courtesy of Freeform’s The Bold Type, which follows three young women navigating their careers, love lives and myriad insecurities as they also spelunk through the world of New York City’s high-fashion publications.
It’s a little like a lighter version of Sex in the City. But lighter doesn’t necessarily mean better.
Scarlet, a Cosmopolitan-style magazine, exists in an exclusive bubble that feels oh-so hip—one filled with all-night parties and endless expense accounts, where people actually wear Gucci instead of just telling it to a grumpy baby (as in, “Gucci-gucci-goo!”).
Jane Sloan was one of Scarlet’s best up-and-coming writers until she up and left for another publication. But don’t worry, because after a few failures and career shifts, she’s back at Scarlet once again—this time as a senior writer and editor.
Jane’s best friends, Sutton and Kat, are making it in New York—often in every which way one can interpret the phrase “making it.” Sutton, a stylist at Scarlet, married and then separated from her beau, and she’s still figuring out how to balance her career with her personal life. Kat’s navigating her own bumpy career patch and, of course, her own relational dramas with various lesbian partners.
This is not to say that these young professionals are both gluten-and moral-free. They care deeply for one another, and each tries to hold firm to her own sets of (admittedly flexible) values in a high-pressure, largely amoral industry. They may want a bite of the Big Apple, but they don’t want to choke on the core.
But while The Bold Type’s characters are engaging, sometimes sympathetic and may even make heartening decisions on occasion, the road to those decisions can be fraught with some alarming potholes.
The Bold Type, airing as it does on Freeform, doesn’t engage in the extraordinarily salacious flights of fancy that HBO’s Sex in the City dabbled in. It steers clear of that show’s explicit sexual visuals and hard-R content. It still feels a little like CW’s long-gone (but longtime standard-setting) Gossip Girls.
But we didn’t have a lot of great things to say about Gossip Girls back in the day, either.
Sure, the camera might not linger on sex scenes in The Bold Type. But our characters don’t hesitate to go into a random bedroom with a significant other. Or their current crush. Or, let’s be honest, maybe someone they just met. All three believe that sex is less about marriage and more a potential stepping stone to a more committed relationship. Or, potentially, not. It kinda depends on how they’re feeling that evening. Or how angry they are with their ex. Or how much they’ve had to drink.
And these women do drink and dance and club the night away whenever they’re able, really. The real “charm” of shows like The Bold Type is that they give viewers access to a mysterious, alluring world filled with shimmering celebs, high fashion and exclusive nightclubs that most of us (well, I) would never, ever be allowed into. The world of The Bold Type is that of the Kardashians and Katy Perrys of the world—a world that magazines like Scarlet (and shows like The Bold Type) allow us to imagine just a bit. This is escapist television—as tawdry as a 1980s primetime soap in its own way, albeit a bit better written.
Does the glittering world of high-fashion magazines have any resemblance at all to this show? Who knows? But I would suggest this: The Bold Type, like the magazine at its core, looks awfully glamorous … but it could use some harder edits.
Jane, Sutton and the rest of the Scarlet staff prepare for a retreat led by Carson Kressley, who came to fame on Bravo’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. But the retreat proves to be secondary to other professional and personal interests. Jane sneaks out of the retreat to pursue a story involving an alleged sexual harasser—even as she tries to sort out her feelings for her own employee. Sutton, on the way to divorce, tries to wash away the grief for her own failing relationship (and her guilt for sleeping with an old flame last season) in a shower of booze. And Kat tries to figure out how to break up with one-night-stand Eva because she’s (gasp) a conservative.
Kat’s eventual confrontation—wherein she tells Eva that her political stances “hurt people like me”—leads to one of the most self-deceptive, paradoxically immorally principled statements in the history of television: “I want to be proud of who I’m sleeping with,” Kat says, cutting off the conversation there. (She also talks about how she sleeps with “whoever I want to sleep with,” but that she didn’t like herself after sleeping with a card-carrying Republican.)
Alex Crawford, who called out someone for a homophobic tweet made eight years ago (and got the tweeter fired), is called out for “cancelling” someone who just made a mistake. (A friend tells Alex that the tweeter marched in Scarlet’s Women’s March, and even wore heels in solidarity.) We hear about the alleged harasser that Jane is hoping to expose, and how the man made his assistants clean up his office after sex. Jane confesses that she’s attracted to her coworker in front of said coworker and a potential source in order to gain that source’s trust.
Kressley says he’s been a fan of Scarlet “ever since I read that article about gay men teaching straight women how to please a man. Because let’s face it: We know better than anyone.” He also talks about RuPaul and raising the “next generation of queens.” Sutton wakes up after a drunken night out wearing a Hooters outfit and her bra stuffed with napkins.
Our three main characters wake up from said night all feeling the impact of the alcohol. (Jane feels it quite literally, when she grabs Sutton’s foot and a barely conscious Sutton kicks her in the face.) “Why did you let us get that drunk on a weeknight?” Jane gripes. Sutton encourages Jane to drink with her on the bus up to the Scarlet retreat, but Jane refuses. (She apparently vomited on the bus during the last retreat.) Sutton drinks alone and consumes two flasks of booze. Then once she arrives, Sutton goes to the open bar and orders a double shot of vodka, which she downs in one gulp. During a trust fall exercise, she falls … face first. Kat and Jane try to work to get her to sober up.
People drink mimosas and champagne. They lie and mislead. They also say a handful of swear words, including “h—” and “d–n.” (We also hear “b–ch” in a song in the background.) Jesus’ name is abused once.
A surprise blizzard forces the residents of New York City to stay put as all methods of transportation are shut down. During the lockdown, Jane learns how to critique the work of one of her writers without insulting him, Sutton figures out how to manage the stress of her job while still supporting her budding family, and Kat realizes that she doesn’t always have to speak out to be heard.
A couple lies naked in bed together (completely covered by sheets). Another couple kisses and cuddles on a couch. People talk about female anatomy in both sexual and clinical ways. Sex toys, gender identification, androgynous people and conversion therapy are all discussed.
People drink alcohol throughout the episode. A man accidentally gets high on allergy medication. Some women receive an IV therapy “hangover cure.” A man stresses about letting his daughter see her biological father (his ex) after her dad is released from rehab.
People talk about vomit and diarrhea. Someone talks about “white-washing” Cleopatra. We hear “b–ch” and “d–mit,” as well as a few misuses of God’s name.
Kat is confronted with racial profiling as she runs for city council. Elsewhere, she has a disagreement with campaign manager and her lesbian lover, Tia. Sutton and much older boyfriend, Richard, hit a relational rough patch. Jane searches for a new roomate and tries to distract herself from boyfriend Ryan’s approaching two-month absence.
Jane and her boyfriend lie in bed together (she lies in a t-shirt and underwear), make out and talk about having sex. Sutton tries to seduce her boyfriend but is denied, so she grabs a vibrator instead. Kat and Tia make out in bed, in their bras, and it’s insinuated that things go further.
Women and men alike make jokes about male and female genitalia and sex. People talk about couples moving in together, being “pro-choice” and choosing your preferred gender pronouns. Couples kiss, flirt and make out. Women wear short skirts and cleavage-baring tops.
A woman makes racist comments toward Kat and Tia. She accuses them of stealing, shady behavior and loitering (all of which is untrue). Jane tries to uncover a story about an abusive manager who, we hear, physically, mentally and sexually abuses her model clients. A man processes the death of his father, while his girlfriend admits she never knew her absentee dad.
A couple drinks wine. God’s name is misused twice. The s-word is heard once and a woman says she’s “p-ssed off.”
Sutton tries to advance her career by befriending a social media influencer, but she finds that her friendship may require her to cross some ethical lines. Kat is feeling insecure regarding her lover’s sexually promiscuous past. And Jane starts dating a doctor … but balks when she learns that he’s a practicing Christian.
The doctor prays before a meal and shows a cross tattoo on his wrist. “He’s religious,” Jane complains to her roomies. “You don’t see that around New York.” But when Kat reminds Jane that her girlfriend, Adena, is a Muslim (who prays five times a day) and that Jane once dated a Jewish man, Jane’s unease begins to feel hypocritical. (Jane suggests that, in New York, Judaism is more of a “lifestyle choice.”) Later, she says that “religious people can be kind of judgey.”
“She says, judgingly,” Kat mocks her.
Later, Jane admits to the doctor that her mother was very religious, and that she asked Jane to pray for her when she (the mom) got cancer. After Jane’s mom died, the pastor told her, “God has taken your mom to a better place.”
“I prayed to God to keep her here with me,” Jane admits through tears. “Because what better place is there?” The doctor sympathizes and accepts her resistance to faith for now. (And when Jane asks him how he feels about “premarital sex,” the doctor says he’s A-OK with it.) Jane later begins writing a story titled “My God Complex.”
Kat and Adena go to a lesbian bar. Kat grows jealous when she sees Adena hanging out with former lovers. She demands to know how many people Adena has slept with, but Adena refuses to tell. (As the episode ends, though, Adena admits it’s a lot.) Adena kisses Kat’s neck before they begin kissing each other on the lips: Later, Sutton takes a whiff of Kat and tells her that she obviously had sex.
We see other women kiss at the bar as well. Sutton and Jane both mention how many sexual relationships they’ve had: Sutton admits that her number, 28, would go up if extended to sexual activities other than intercourse. Jane lifts her dress up to reveal some sexy underwear. Lots of cleavage-baring outfits are worn. Sutton’s friend buys cocaine on Sutton’s Scarlet expense account, which Sutton hides from her bosses. She discusses a hangover, and she and others drink at bars. Jane spies a married man smooching with his apparent lover.
We hear the s-word once, along with six misuses of God’s name.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).
Sheila hates everyone, most especially herself. Perhaps it’s fitting that the show, Physical, is so easy to dislike.
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