The Girls on the Bus review: An election-year drama that won’t stress you out

Three years have passed since New York Sentinel political reporter Sadie McCarthy (Melissa Benoist) experienced a public moment of vulnerability when the candidate she was covering, Felicity Walker (Hettienne Park), lost the election—an image of her emotional breakdown quickly turned into a meme mocking “liberal tears.” Now, as another election cycle looms on the horizon, Sadie is determined to follow the frontrunner, Caroline Walker (Joanna Gleason), but her superiors question her ability to remain impartial.

After pleading with her editor, Bruce (Griffin Dunne), for a second chance—and vowing to secure an exclusive interview with Walker—Sadie is granted permission to return to the campaign trail. Joining Walker’s entourage are several other journalists, including Grace Gordon Greene (Carla Gugino), a seasoned investigative reporter with three decades of experience; Kimberlyn Kendrick (Christina Elmore), an ambitious correspondent for the conservative Liberty Direct News network; and Lola Rahaii (Natasha Behnam), a survivor of a mass shooting who has since become a prominent social justice advocate with millions of followers on Instagram. Over the course of ten episodes, these diverse women will evolve from skeptical strangers to close confidantes.

In a world where traditional print media, right-wing cable news, and digitally savvy Gen Z influencers join forces to uncover a political conspiracy, The Girls on the Bus (premiering March 14 on Max) offers an idealistic vision that resonates with its audience.

Melissa Benoist, Carla Gugino, Christina Elmore, and Natasha Behnam in 'The Girls on the Bus'

Consider this your heads-up: The dramedy, inspired by Amy Chozick’s 2018 memoir, Chasing Hillary, can sometimes veer into cheesy territory. Expect an abundance of earnest voice-overs (“To be a journalist is to have a calling”) and dialogue that occasionally hits you over the head with its obviousness (“Sadie, you’re a great writer, but you lead with your heart,” says Bruce. “We need you to lead with your head”). And when Sadie finds herself conversing with the spirit of Hunter S. Thompson (PJ Sosko) about ten minutes into the premiere—she’s a devoted fan and carries a copy of Timothy Crouse’s campaign chronicle, The Boys on the Bus, like a sacred text—I almost called it quits.

However, I decided to stick around, and not just because of professional obligation. Developed initially for Netflix and later for The CW by co-creators Chozick and Julie Plec (known for The Vampire Diaries), The Girls on the Bus portrays the world of political reporting much like early 2000s rom-coms depicted magazine publishing—polished, exhilarating, and essential. Bruce embodies the quintessential grizzled-editor archetype, striding through the newsroom barking orders for copy and sending inspiring emails about the importance of journalism to his dedicated staff. Sadie and her colleagues aren’t plagued by concerns of layoffs, budget cuts, or the looming threat of AI-generated articles. Their sole focus is on uncovering and reporting the truth. There’s a comforting sense of nostalgia in this simplicity, particularly for those feeling the strain of today’s ever-shrinking and increasingly fragmented media landscape, especially in such a crucial election year.
Scott Foley and Melissa Benoist in 'The Girls on the Bus'

What’s notable about Girls on the Bus is its tendency to shift the focus away from the campaign trail (apologies for the pun) and instead delve into the characters’ personal dramas. In between covering the heated race between Catherine Walker and her diverse array of rivals—including a charismatic movie star (Mark Consuelos), a progressive congresswoman (Tala Ashe), and a charming Kansas mayor/veteran (Scott Foley)—the central journalists grapple with the “life” aspect of work-life balance. Sadie finds herself uncomfortably paired with her ex, Malcolm (Brandon Scott), who becomes the frontrunner’s spokesperson. Kimberlyn faces tension with her frustrated fiancé, Eric (Kyle Vincent Terry), who believes she’s neglecting their wedding plans. Grace experiences the repercussions of her laid-back parenting approach when her daughter (Rose Jackson Smith) is suspended from school, and Lola is compelled to confront her suppressed anger and trauma when a magazine revisits the shooting she survived.

The series truly shines when it allows the Girls to bond, whether it’s on the bus or in one of the many nondescript hotel bars they frequent along their journey. Benoist, Gugino, Elmore, and Behnam establish a captivating chemistry from the start, infusing their characters’ debates over differing worldviews with a sharpness that feels both authentic and engaging. Discussions range from the nature of gender—social construct or biological fact—to the purpose of presidential debates—meaningful policy showcases or mere spectacles. And amidst its romanticized portrayal, Girls on the Bus subtly critiques the media for prioritizing sensational stories while a threat to democracy looms in plain sight. While the full extent of this political conspiracy is revealed late in the season, setting up an intriguing path for a potential second season, it does feel somewhat like an afterthought. Nonetheless, given the increasing chaos of our political landscape, another journey aboard this Bus would be a welcome prospect.

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