Television

The Bold Type Is Getting Better and Better. Too Bad Its Main Character Isn’t.

Season 2 is a big improvement. There’s just one problem.

Katie Stevens as Jane Sloan in The Bold Type.
Katie Stevens as Jane Sloan in The Bold Type.
Freeform

Early on in this season of The Bold Type, young journalist Jane Sloan (played by Katie Stevens) loses her job at Incite, the upstart website she left Cosmo-ish Scarlet magazine to join, after her first story there went pear-shaped. Then Jane sets a meeting with Jacqueline, Scarlet’s editor in chief, to ask if the magazine will take her back. As I watched Jacqueline say no, I instantly knew two things: I love this show, and I hate Jane.

“You have some growing up to do, Jane,” Jacqueline tells her. “You need to live in this failure.” Your fave could never, I thought—a lesser show would have given Jane her old job back lickety-split. Then again, a better show would not have a protagonist as unintentionally unsympathetic as Jane in the first place.

When The Bold Type premiered on Freeform last year, its opening scene found the show’s three heroines, Jane, Kat, and Sutton, standing melodramatically on a New York City subway platform that looked precisely nothing like a New York City subway platform, wearing gowns, no less. That told me everything I needed to know about what kind of show this was going to be. That’s pretty much what I got; a Slate podcast assessment deemed the show tiresome and didactic and pointed out its tendency to check off social-issues boxes rather than create complicated, interesting characters and plotlines. I kept watching anyway—despite its many flaws, it was set in the world of journalism, like many a great rom-com before it, and it aired during the still semidead summer season. Much to the show’s credit, it got better. By the first season’s end, I actually liked it. The second season, which began airing in June, has been even stronger, and critics agree that the show has upped its game. It may even be on the verge of making the leap from good-for-a-show-that-used-to-be-bad to good-full-stop. But as the show gets better and better, its upswing has been throwing one thing into sharper relief: Jane, The Bold Type’s top-billed character, pretty much sucks.

This season alone, Jane has sold out the publication she works for on live TV, freaked out over a guy she’s dating being a Christian, complained—to her black friend—about not getting a job because she’s white, and reacted so stubbornly to her roommate secretly keeping a gun in their apartment that she made the girl hiding a gun seem like the reasonable one. Jane’s cluelessness and entitlement aren’t helped by Stevens’ youthful appearance and small size—the character’s nickname is “Tiny Jane”—which gives the impression that she isn’t mature enough to sit at the adults’ table.

Back when The Bold Type generally stank, Jane’s specific suckiness was less remarkable. Her fellow lead, Sutton, was mainly defined by the stale plot device the writers had saddled her with: She was an assistant who was secretly dating one of the higher-ups at the publisher where they worked. They made out when everyone else got off the elevator; she taught him about Snapchat, because she was young and he was old. Yawn. Since that relationship ended, Sutton’s plotlines have improved dramatically—she’s struggling with trying to be happy for her friends’ success while dealing with feeling like she’s behind them, careerwise. The writers have also given Sutton a personality: Compared to mega-earnest Jane, she’s wise without being pedantic, and she’s feisty too, not afraid to rag on her friends or herself when the situation calls for it. Kat, the show’s other lead, had a head start in that her character was pretty cool—outspoken and supercompetent and a take-charge kinda gal—from the beginning, but she too has taken on layers in Season 2 as she’s reckoned with her biracial identity and the relationship with a woman she jumped into in Season 1.

Jane, meanwhile, has persisted in pitching bad articles and acting like a baby at work while disrespecting her friends in her personal life. Let’s revisit that regrettable didn’t-get-the-job-because-I’m-white plotline. When Jane finds out she wasn’t hired at Yes Girl, she complains to her friends, “I know that [diversity]’s important. It just feels really unfair. I feel like I would have gotten the job otherwise, and I just, I wanted this so bad.” She’s been unemployed for like a week at this point, but nevertheless, it’s understandable that she’s frustrated in the moment, even as Kat points out, “So you’re all for diversity as long as it doesn’t affect you?”

What’s harder to stomach is that by the time Jane meets up with Kat later for coffee, she’s doubled down on her stance. “I didn’t get a job that I was perfect for because I’m white,” she says, indignantly. “I was just stating a fact.” Is Jane so un–clued-in to decades of discourse about diversity, representation, and affirmative action? This could have been a finely drawn discussion about how despite years of learning about and paying lip service to the importance of diversity—drilled into most millennials since elementary school—Jane had never seriously reckoned with her own privilege. Instead, the audience watched a black character gently educate a white character who, despite being painted up to that point as liberal-leaning, was suddenly parroting conservative talking points, and who then later apologizes and chalks her angst up to “spiraling” over unemployment. It was the Ambien makes you racist of plotlines. But more to the point, it becomes really hard to buy Jane as a writer who can bring complexity and thoughtfulness to stories about sexual assault and other issues when she displays such ignorance on her own time.

The Bold Type is hardly the first TV show with an unlikable character at its center. But Jane is neither a Don Draper–style antihero nor, as with Piper on Orange Is the New Black, a character the show is aware can sometimes veer toward insufferable. Instead, it seems like the writers haven’t quite figured out what to do with Jane yet. Is she a talented writer who’s worth rooting for, who’s a good friend most of the time, or is she a vessel for voicing the other side when The Bold Type decides to take on a controversial issue? If she’s supposed to be interesting and winning despite her flaws, the writers should give the character some actual depth beyond continuing to trot out her backstory about her mother dying when she was young, and apply some consistency in her politics and personality. Until then, Jane will remain a vestige of The Bold Type’s bad old days, and an excuse for people who haven’t given the show a chance to stay away.

Or the writers could lean into Jane’s hateability and make her an entertaining monster: The Devil Wears a Juniors Size 0?