If you ask Aisha Dee to describe her show The Bold Type, she says it's like drinking a glass of rosé while reading a Cosmo. It's "real world" but it's also "wish fulfillment," she says.
Dee, Katie Stevens and Meghann Fahy star as Kat, Jane and Sutton — three best friends living in New York and working together at Scarlet magazine, a fictional outlet inspired by Cosmopolitan. The Freeform comedy series begins its third season Tuesday night.
The premise is familiar — HBO's hit shows Sex and the City and Girls both followed the friendships of young women living and working in New York. But The Bold Type aims to provide a fresh take, dealing with issues of career advancement, sexuality, race, women's health and the #MeToo movement.
"These three girls are strong, and they are empowered, and they're making strides in their careers — but they're also not perfect," Dee says. "We get to see them be vulnerable and also kind of navigate these situations that a lot of us come up against."
"Sometimes it's nice to put on TV and just escape," says Meghann Fahy, who plays Sutton. But the stars say what's special about The Bold Type is that it provides a space to tackle issues that affect women — as well as an escape.
"We try to have the happy medium of making it aspirational for people to watch, but also making sure that we do put in failures, and we do put in mess for these characters because that is what's real," Stevens says.
They're portraying young women living in 2019 America — but nobody "wants to sit in the darkness of what that really looks like," she jokes.
On the real Cosmopolitan
Aisha Dee: I'd go to the library with my mom all the time and like sneak into the magazine section because I knew she wouldn't approve of me reading it. ... I think Cosmo told me a lot about about life, and sex, and love.
Meghann Fahy: It's really a women's health magazine. Sometimes I think it gets a bad rap ... When we were young ... not being able to read it, or feeling like we had to hide it, was ... an oppression of, like, sexuality and sensuality and, like, what it is to be a woman and a girl who's learning about her body. ... On our show we sort of talk about how the magazine is so much more than [what people give it credit for].
On people comparing their show to Sex and the City
Katie Stevens: What's more cool to me is you see all those BuzzFeed quizzes that are like, "Are you Miranda or a Carrie, or..." you know. And now there are quizzes that are like, "Are you a Sutton, Kat, or a Jane." I think that ours is obviously like a refreshed, newer version. ... I could watch all of my favorite shows from that era and find problematic things about them. But I think ultimately what you take away from Sex and the City in terms of the women's friendships and them navigating their lives and their aspirations ... I think that you get the same feeling when you watch The Bold Type.
On where their characters are headed in Season 3
Stevens: For Jane, when we left her at Season 2 she had some big decisions to make in terms of who she wanted to be with, and kind of navigating her health stuff in terms of freezing her eggs, and if she was going to do that or not. So in Season 3 she's finally made those decisions. ... I've learned so much from playing this storyline ... about women's health, and we touch a little bit more on that in Season 3.
Fahy: For Sutton in Season 3 I think she's really sort of grappling with what it is that she actually wants to be doing. I think she finally got into the fashion department and ... she doesn't want to be an assistant forever. So she's kind of trying to decide what it is that she does want to work towards. I think that's exciting we haven't actually seen her do that yet.
Dee: We get to see this woman, [Kat], who is described as being so strong and confident, but often we see characters like that and we don't feel the need to ask the question, "Why they need to be so strong and why they need to be so confident?" You get to see Kat be vulnerable and also kind of discover parts of herself in her 20s. ...
I love getting to see this woman who is an adult ... or is trying to be an adult — and she's still discovering who she is and still finding herself, and finding confidence, and falling in love for the first time, and falling out of love for the first time. It's been really a very special story to get to tell, and it's inspired me a lot.
Sydney Harper and Joanne Levine produced and edited this interview for broadcast.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A show about women living and working together in New York City. Yes, it's a formula, but it's one that has turned out some pretty big hits. Cue Carrie Bradshaw's narrator voice - or not, because if you're a woman of a certain age, you can conjure it on demand even though you might not like to admit it.
Now, a new generation is getting a new variation on the formula. It's called "The Bold Type." Season three premieres tonight on Freeform. It follows Jane, Kat and Sutton, best friends who grapple with lessons on race, health, sexual identity and more. Together, they work at Scarlet, a fictional women's magazine modeled after Cosmo. I talked with the three stars - their names, Katie Stevens, Meghann Fahy and Aisha Dee. And we talked about how they're giving the girlfriend genre a modern voice.
AISHA DEE: I really like describing it as kind of, like, drinking a glass of rose while reading, you know, a Cosmo or, you know, whatever your favorite magazine is or just hanging out with your friends. It kind of feels familiar and comforting, I think, especially in today's climate to watch something that feels like it's, you know, somewhere in the real world but is also kind of a bit of wish fulfillment. And it's fun. It's like a glass of rose.
MEGHANN FAHY: (Laughter) Or several.
MARTIN: So this is based on the story of Cosmo and, in particular, the former editor-in-chief Joanna Coles. So there are some direct parallels to life working in a women's magazine. I mean, that's what it's all about. Did you guys read these magazines?
KATIE STEVENS: Well, this is Katie. I used to get Cosmos and stuff when - you know, you're at the airport, you pick up a magazine. But at the age that I was doing that, I think that it was kind of, like, you would hide that you're reading Cosmo because there was, like, a big thing at the front that's like, 99...
FAHY: It was like, sex.
STEVENS: ...Sex positions (laughter).
DEE: Yeah, I think - Cosmo told me a lot about life and sex and love and...
FAHY: Yeah. I mean - well, this is Meghann. I think that's the thing about Cosmo that our show kind of touches on is it's really a women's health magazine. It's not - sometimes I think it gets a bad rap. And even when we were young, like, not being able to read it or feeling like we had to hide it was in a way, like, an oppression of, like, sexuality and sensuality and what it is to be a woman and a girl who's learning about her body. And I kind of love that it's - really, like, advocates for women's health in a lot of really important ways.
MARTIN: I actually sat down with Joanna Coles in 2014 after she took over as editor-in-chief of Cosmo, and we talked about how she wanted to expand the definition of a women's magazine. I want to play a clip from that conversation. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
JOANNA COLES: I have no problem understanding that women are interested in mascara and the Middle East. Men are allowed to talk about sports relentlessly, and yet we still take them seriously. I don't understand why women can't talk about fashion or sex or love or wanting more money and not be taken as seriously as men.
MARTIN: How is that idea represented in the show, do you think?
DEE: These three girls are - this is Aisha by the way - strong, and they're empowered. And they're making strides in their careers. But they're also not perfect. And we get to see them be vulnerable and also kind of navigate these situations that a lot of us come up against, you know, in our 20s and 30s and, I think, all through life.
FAHY: This is Meghann. I also think that the show does a pretty good job of mixing current issues with just the girls kind of being in their lives in their 20s in New York, which is such a specific thing. And I think that the conversations that they have with each other about their relationships and their bodies touches on what Joanna was speaking about in that clip, which is, like, these are conversations that women do have with each other. You don't often see it on television.
And the thing that has inspired me the most is when young girls come up to us who are fans of the show, and they say, you know, watching the show inspired me to have a conversation with my friend about race or about, you know, whatever. And I think that is really exciting.
MARTIN: It is still a fantasy, though, right? I mean, fabulous outfits. You are working in fashion. You know, it's a little bit "Devil Wears Prada," little bit "Sex And The City." How do you balance that idea of wanting to be, like, real and authentic and strip away all the artifice and at the same time live in that universe?
STEVENS: Well, this is Katie. I think one of the important things to take away from the show is kind of what Joanna was talking about in that clip as well, which is these women, yes, you know, we're in beautiful clothes, and we're doing all that stuff. But we're talking about things that are important, and we're shedding light on, you know, the grey area of conversations that people should be able to have.
And I think there are cases, obviously, when you watch a TV show, you want things to work out for the characters that you're rooting for. But we try to have the happy medium of making it aspirational for people to watch but also making sure that we do put in failures, and we do put in mess for these characters because that is what's real. And, you know, people fail and have to pick themselves up and figure out where to go next. And I think that our show does that really well for all of our characters.
MARTIN: Let me ask about the new season. You know, Kat, Aisha, is getting comfortable in her new life. She is a young, queer, biracial woman who's trying to figure out how much she wants to talk publicly about navigating her way through that.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BOLD TYPE")
DEE: (As Kat Edison) Cool.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Hey, I have an idea. I want you to speak at the Scarlet Summit tomorrow.
DEE: (As Kat Edison) I'm sorry?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Think about it. You have so much to draw from - your rise to the top of social media here, your relationship with Adena, your experiences coming out, being queer in the digital age. You'll find a good angle. You're going to be great.
DEE: (As Kat Edison) OK.
MARTIN: How are we going to see that unfold in the new season?
DEE: One of the things that I loved about the pilot script and even the show in general kind of going into it was the fact that we get to see this woman who is described as being so strong and confident. But often, we see characters like that, and we don't feel the need to ask the question why they need to be so strong and why they need to be so confident.
And you get to see Kat be vulnerable and also kind of discovering who she is and still finding herself and finding confidence and falling in love for the first time and falling out of love for the first time. It's been really a very special story to get to tell, and it's inspired me a lot. And, you know, as far as I can tell from what people say in the streets, the show inspires them too. So it's incredible.
MARTIN: Katie Stevens, Aisha Dee and Meghann Fahy - they are the stars of the Freeform show "The Bold Type."
Ladies, it has been such a pleasure. Thank you so much.
FAHY: Thank you so much.
STEVENS: Thank you so much.
DEE: Thank you so much for talking to us.
FAHY: Katie, stop saying the same thing as me at the same time.
STEVENS: Aisha said it too.
(SOUNDBITE OF ASTRONAUTICA'S "SILVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.