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‘The Girls on the Bus’ Review — Max’s Political Dramedy Is Massively Fun

Mar 11, 2024


The Big Picture

Max’s
The Girls on the Bus
allows four multidimensional women to shine and develop surprising dynamics with one another.
The show addresses serious issues while still maintaining its sense of fun.

The Girls on the Bus
is at its best when focusing on the women’s careers and friendships, as some personal plotlines are more intriguing than others.

The United States is living in chaotic political times and art is most certainly reflecting life. Political dramas have always been all the rage, from dark thrillers like House of Cards and The Diplomat to more traditional peeks inside the White House in The West Wing and Madam Secretary to glossy limited series based on real scandals à la White House Plumbers and Gaslit. Shows about political journalists have become their own subgenre, with everything from The Newsroom to Political Animals, the latter of which is a comedy-drama created by Greg Berlanti and stars Carla Gugino as a reporter.

The Girls on the Bus coincidentally also features Gugino as a reporter and is executive-produced by Berlanti, but its tone and focus make it feel more comparable to something like Younger, a Darren Star series centering around women in the publishing industry, or even the excellent The Sex Lives of College Girls, which focuses on four very different university students. Considering The Girls on the Bus was co-created by Julie Plec, the mind behind The Vampire Diaries and a frequent collaborator on CW shows, this isn’t altogether surprising. Though this might initially feel like a strange direction for a political series to take, rest assured, it turns out to be a very, very good thing.

‘The Girls on the Bus’ Lets Its Characters Have Depth
Image via Max

The series was co-created with Amy Chozick, the author of Chasing Hillary, her memoir on which the show is loosely based. Having been a member of the traveling press for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Chozick has real-life experience in the world she’s writing about — and it shows, especially in the multi-dimensionality of its characters.

There are four main women, each with vastly different backgrounds and goals. There’s Sadie (Melissa Benoist), our scrappy protagonist and narrator. A print reporter, she’s not the newest kid on the block anymore, but she’s not particularly seasoned either. She has the added challenge of trying to prove herself after becoming too personally invested in a candidate last cycle, Felicity Walker (Hettienne Park), which culminated in a humiliating viral meltdown. Her life becomes much more complicated when Walker — as well as other ghosts from her past — comes back to haunt her. Benoist gives a fantastic performance, anchoring the large ensemble with ease. She’s endearingly optimistic, but she’s also resourceful, and her passion makes her impossible not to root for — even when she’s making some more questionable decisions.

Sadie doesn’t have a lot of friends from her last campaign trail, but she does have a great one in Grace (Carla Gugino), who’s been in the business for decades and whose family has been in it for even longer. Grace is substantially more jaded and logical than Sadie, but she refreshingly doesn’t fall into the trope of a cold veteran who hoards secrets and antagonizes those less familiar with it all. A pillar of old media and detached objectivity, Grace can be skeptical of new techniques and attitudes, but there’s a distinct lack of condescension for the most part. She often acts as a mentor, but she also has her flaws, and Gugino balances her strengths and struggles perfectly. After years of quietly being one of the best actors in the business, Gugino has finally started getting her flowers with her Mike Flanagan collaborations. If there’s any justice, the Guginoaissance is just getting started, as The Girls on the Bus showcases a different but equally impressive set of her skills.

On the surface, Lola (Natasha Behnam) is everything that Grace is not. At 24 years old, Lola is a popular social media influencer with a massive reach, which she uses to leverage access so she can inform her progressive audience about politics and get more young people involved in democracy. She definitely takes the most modern, untraditional approach of the bunch, relying on sponsors instead of editors to her the job done, but she has more in common with the others than meets the eye. She’s ambitious, for one, and whip-smart — a go-getter who’s willing to do what it takes to reach her goals. Benham is an absolute revelation, infusing Lola with charisma and charm. She’s confident yet naive, magnetic yet vulnerable. Lola could easily fall into a grating Gen Z stereotype in lesser hands, but Behnam makes her simply irresistible.

Rounding out the quartet is Kimberlynn (Christina Elmore), who may be the most different of all. The sole conservative in the group of left-leaning women, Kimberlynn struggles to find her place in a myriad of ways: being a Republican in a largely Democratic space, being a Black woman at a predominantly white network, the list goes on. Elmore may have the toughest job, as this show’s target demographic is, by the very nature of its existence, progressives. But it quickly becomes clear she’s up for the challenge, embuing Kimberlynn with just as much humanity and depth as the others. Many viewers may not relate to her politics, but they will almost surely still be able to relate to her, with Elmore winning the audience over at each turn with her desire to make the world better in her own way.

‘The Girls on the Bus’ Is Best When It Focuses on the Relationship Between the Core Four
Image via Max

Each of the women is fascinating on their own, and together, they’re even better. The Girls on the Bus smartly gives the women a chance to shine as a group, but it also delves into each relationship. Sadie and Grace have a fun, easy banter that gives us an entry point into the show, slowly allowing the other dynamics to blossom in time. Some of the best moments come when unexpected duos emerge, like when Grace and Lola make a friendly bet or when Sadie and Kimberlynn are forced to take a road trip. Lola and Kimberlynn unsurprisingly butt heads, but they ultimately learn from each other and come to respect one another. While on paper, this could feel idealistic and oversimplified, The Girls on the Bus makes it work and grounds it in truth. The show is unashamed of its heart and hope, and it’s all the better for it.

The series also showcases the women outside of their jobs, expanding their worlds to include their families and flames. Though it’s never quite as compelling as when it focuses on friendship, there is still plenty to like about these detours. Sadie’s complicated romance and history with press secretary Malcolm (Brandon Scott) is interesting, and they share enough chemistry to make it feel worth our while. Lola’s dynamics with her family and trauma from a horrifying event are very intriguing, but they both don’t get as much screen time as one would like — a disappointing but ultimately understandable sacrifice when there are so many plotlines going on at once. It’s easy to become invested in her sexy, playful (and queer!) fling with a staffer from her favorite candidate’s campaign, though the way they resolve that storyline ends up feeling disappointing and unnecessary.

We also explore Grace and Kimberlynn’s sturdier relationships — at least on paper. Grace’s relationships are fraught — with her famous journalist father, her husband (Scott Cohen), and her college-aged daughter (Rose Jackson Smith). It looks like she has it all, but does she? Her journey can feel a bit cliché at times, but there’s enough of a refreshing spin to keep it gripping. Like with Lola, there’s so much to mine with Grace that it feels like we’ve barely scratched the surface — not a terrible problem to have, all things considered, as we’re left wanting more.

Kimberlynn’s personal life, on the other hand, suffers from feeling too thinly drawn. Her solo scenes are the most uneven, as she spends the majority of the season trying to juggle planning a wedding with her fiancé, Eric (Kyle Vincent Terry), while being on the trail. Eric doesn’t have much of a personality, and her arc feels the most cookie-cutter and lackluster. It’s not awful — it’s just not particularly memorable either. Luckily, her grappling with her career path is engaging; it’s just unfortunate that her personal life is never as captivating.

‘The Girls on the Bus’ Is Timely, But It Never Takes Itself Too Seriously

A lot is going on in The Girls on the Bus, juggling a myriad of personal and political stories at all times, but it’s miraculously easy to follow for the most part, and they all pay off. The pacing is quick and snappy without feeling rushed or underdeveloped. Some elements — especially of the campaigns and candidates in the election itself — can get a little silly, but this is TV, after all. And the circus of politics, for that matter. To be frank, it’s not all that far-fetched. There are small-town mayors (Scott Foley) running against action stars (Mark Consuelos) and experienced moderates competing against determined socialists. Sound familiar?

The biggest concern with a show like this may be the fear of it feeling like another entry into the myriad of projects that tout shallow, girlboss feminism. And sure, some moments are a little cheesy, a couple of lines can come off a bit cringe, and certain conversations can feel more like a conglomeration of buzzwords and surface-level ideas. The surreal elements — Sadie having an imaginary friend of sorts in her writing idol and daydreaming about seeing a candidate naked or going apeshit on a post office employee, for instance — don’t always work. But for the most part, the show smartly uses its characters to anticipate, examine, and subvert those critiques.

That’s not to say it’s always groundbreaking or interested in going deep on every issue, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s refreshing. The Girls on the Bus knows exactly what it is and is unafraid to be unapologetically itself. It clearly hopes that it will empower you, but it doesn’t stuff sentimental inspiration down your throat — instead, it lets its characters do that naturally, focusing, first and foremost, on being entertaining.

“Maybe objectivity isn’t as important as authenticity,” Sadie says in the pilot. That’s a good summary of what to expect going into the show. The Girls on the Bus paints a specific, beautiful world — one where women put competition and arguments aside and work together for the greater good. It handles serious topics, from sexism and racism to abortion and corruption, in a way that feels both raw and palatable while never taking away from the show’s watchability and enjoyability. I fell in love with these characters fast, and there’s so much more to explore. Let’s hope the network decides to give it a second term in the form of a Season 2 — it already has my vote for one of my favorite shows of the year.

The Girls on the Bus REVIEWThe Girls on the Bus’ excellent characters and confident tone make it an entertaining watch.Four female journalists who follow the every move of a parade of flawed presidential candidates, finding friendship, love, and a scandal that could take down not just the presidency but our entire democracy along the way.ProsThe show has four unique and layered characters at the center.It takes time and care to develop interesting and surprising dynamics.The show addresses serious issues while keeping its fun, playful tone. ConsSome personal storylines are weaker than others.There are so many storylines that the series doesn’t get to dive as deeply into some.

The Girls on the Bus will premiere on Max in the U.S. on March 14.

WATCH ON MAX

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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