The Girls On The Bus review: Max's political drama is an aggravating misfire

Melissa Benoist, Carla Gugino, Christina Elmore, and Natasha Behnam in The Girls On The Bus
Melissa Benoist, Carla Gugino, Christina Elmore, and Natasha Behnam in The Girls On The Bus
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The intention behind The Girls On The Bus, which premieres March 14 on Max, is admirable. In it, four competing reporters in the throes of high-pressure political coverage form an unshakeable friendship while on the presidential campaign trail. That indeed has all the makings of a great message. The show’s timing, too, is incidentally perfect considering it’s also an election year in the United States. However, don’t expect the show to be realistic, despite its frustrating attempts to be relevant. For the most part, The Girls On The Bus is unfortunately committed to being far-fetched and overdramatic.

If the show embraced its penchant for theatrical storytelling, it would’ve been fine. Entertaining, even. But it vexingly and poorly masks this affinity under the guise of, ugh, idealism. (Think of it as an unappealing mix of The Morning Show and The Newsroom.) The Girls On The Bus wants to seep into the real world and tackle topical issues—voter fraud, fake news, influencers, clashes with journalists, billionaires interfering in elections, and on and on. It’s too bad relying on Journalism 101 isn’t enough to craft 10 hour-long episodes about democracy and media integrity. That requires nuance,which TGOTB sorely lacks.

The series is loosely based on Amy Chozick’s 2018 memoir, Chasing Hilary, with Chozick adapting it along with The Vampire Diaries’ Julie Plec. Even if it takes mild inspiration from her experiences, the show’s writing is too goddamn cliché to be believable—so much so that TGOTB feels like it is set in an impractical alternate universe. (Very rarely do TV shows succeed in portraying the journalism industry accurately). The tone and pacing are off, struggling to balance light comedy with heightened drama. What’s more, the characters and plots aren’t human; they feel like tropes come to life in the most boring ways. And all of this is immediately obvious from the introduction of the four leads.

The Girls On The Bus

D

D

The Girls On The Bus

Season

1

Sadie (Melissa Benoist) is a passionate reporter at a legacy newspaper, the kind who wants to go boxing with the Governor she’s writing a profile on as some sort of metaphor. Grace (Carla Gugino) is an experienced scooper, breaking news expert, and a mother trying to have it all without succumbing to her own father’s expectations and legacy. Kimberlyn (Christina Elmore) is a Black woman who wants to climb the ladder at the conservative Liberty News because “at least they’re open about their racism.” And then there’s Lola (Natasha Behnam), a TikTok star with sponsored partnerships who packs edibles, a ring light, and her vibrator to cover the campaign for Gen Z.

The Girls On The Bus continually beats us over the head to remind audiences these women are opposites, whether it’s in terms of political views, financial status, family history, or approaches to their careers. Still, as they travel from city to city trapped in a claustrophobic bus and deal with major life events like marriage, pregnancy, breakups, and deaths, they begin to lean on each other in a moralistic “we can all get along if we try” lesson. But the execution is borderline performative and ridiculous in how it glosses over certain critical issues, from women’s reproductive rights to the privatization of media.

Benoist’s Sadie is the de facto lead, even if TGOTB devotes enough time to all four stars. The talented Supergirl actor salvages a shoddy script from time to time, but there’s only so much she can do. At one point, Sadie narrates in a voiceover, “I became a reporter because I wanted to see the country...soak up local culture and cuisine...meet interesting, salt-of-the-earth people.” The dialogue practically begs for an eye roll. She works closely with her editor, Bruce (an underused Griffin Dunne), who answers calls at all hours from his office and at one point enters a newsroom saying, “Get me 1000 words on the party’s platform.” (Side note: That’s not how editors function, and if they do, don’t trust them.)

Sadie’s love story is frustrating, too, and it’s not because the chemistry is missing. She hooks up with someone she isn’t supposed to, and the two of them do nothing to hide it well, even if they talk about the implications of getting caught. And they want us to believe she is good at keeping secrets and sources? (She keeps a burner phone no one’s supposed to know about on loud at all times on a bus full of fellow reporters. Girl.)

The rest of the ensemble is otherwise skilled, but everyone veers towards melodrama to incorporate the nature of the scripts and direction. Gugino is a bonafide icon and Insecure’s Elmore is a breakout, yet their work feels manufactured here. Behnam is stuck with the worst platitudes despite a promising performance. At least Scott Foley is charming enough as a Kansas mayor running for POTUS. (Don’t bother remembering his character’s name, though; the women of the show just call him “Hot White Guy.”)

TGOTB’s most aggravating misstep is its lack of authenticity. Based on the myriad holier-than-thou storylines, the show places itself on a pedestal without an honest grasp of the weighty material. It’s self-serious and -righteous while also, annoyingly at times, weirdly lighthearted. It’s jarring. Crucially, it also dumbs down its politics and media views because The Girls On The Bus doesn’t trust its viewer’s intelligence. Nothing is more disappointing and cynical than that.

The Girls On The Bus premieres March 14 on Max.