The Girls on the Bus Just Wants to Have Fun

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Nicole Rivelli/Max

We get it: There’s an overwhelming number of television shows right now. The streaming landscape is an impractical maze, and the good stuff easily gets lost in the shuffle. But most of us can still find one show that cuts through the noise. We call this “appointment viewing” — or the time you carve out in your busy schedule to watch the show you’ll want to unpack the next day with your friends while it’s still on your mind. Tune in here each month to read what writer Michel Ghanem, a.k.a. @tvscholar, deems worthy of a group-chat deep dive.

So far this year, we’ve been feasting our eyes on dramas like True Detective’s renaissance in January and Shōgun’s mesmerizing period details in February. This month, we turn to lighter fare to take a ride with The Girls on the Bus on Max, an entertaining dramedy about a group of women journalists reporting on the primaries campaign trail in the lead-up to the nomination of a fictional Democrat presidential candidate.

What’s this political dramedy I’ve been hearing about?

The Girls on the Bus is a ten-episode Max series that follows four women journalists on the campaign trail for the Democratic National Convention. Its focus is primarily on Sadie (Melissa Benoist) as our entry point to the world of the primaries, an optimistic New York Sentinel reporter who returns to the trail after having a viral public meltdown in the last primary. She’s close to Grace (Carla Gugino), a veteran campaign reporter with a penchant for breaking juicy stories in rival paper the Washington Union (if you haven’t guessed already, these are fictionalized parallels to the Times and the Post). Both of their more liberal-leaning politics are foiled by Kimberlyn (Christina Elmore), a Republican who works for a Fox-like network, Liberty News. The newcomer on the trail is Lola (Natasha Behnam), a Gen-Z influencer who covers the trail on TikTok between sponsored-content videos and rants about the heteropatriarchy.

Each of the leads navigate obstacles in their personal and professional lives throughout the season while weeks of the primaries drag on — but the show is most compelling when the four journalists are together, forced to lean on each other for advice and favors. As a group, they don’t always see eye to eye on political issues, which leads to some entertaining spirited debates on issues ranging from the contemporary tenets of feminism to the role of personal bias in journalism. Over the season and many bus rides between hotel rooms, they each eventually learn to see beyond their differing opinions and come together to report on candidates that don’t feel too far removed from our reality. The cast is rounded out by supporting and guest performances by Brandon Scott, Griffin Dunne, Scott Foley, Mark Consuelos, Becky Ann Baker, and Cole Escola.

Where can I watch it?

The first two episodes arrive on Max on Thursday, March 14, with single episodes airing weekly until the finale on May 9. Episodes clock in at under 42 minutes in length on average, making them relatively digestible compared to some of the prestige dramas airing this spring. The Girls on the Bus is created by former New York Times journalist Amy Chozick and television producer Julie Plec (best known for co-creating The Vampire Diaries), and is inspired by Chozick’s 2018 memoir, Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling. The title of the show is actually an ode to The Boys on the Bus, the 1973 nonfiction book written by journalist Timothy Crouse about life on the trail covering the 1972 United States presidential election. The series is showrun by Rina Mimoun (Superman & Lois, Pushing Daisies) and produced by Berlanti Productions.

So, what kind of tone can I expect? Is it funny?

The Girls on the Bus would have thrived on broadcast television in the mid- 2010s, probably on a network like Freeform or the CW — I mean that in a good way (it was actually originally developed for Netflix, then the CW, before landing on Max). This series is on the more ambitious side, reminiscent of The Bold Type, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Good Trouble, or something out of early Shondaland (without the trauma). Those shows always knew how to be engaging and entertaining, elevating what could otherwise be relatively dry material. The Girls on the Bus is brightly lit and fast-paced, with surreal stunts along the way to keep your gaze — like Scott Foley stripping in a Magic Mike–esque performance or the ghost of Hunter S. Thompson following Sadie around to give her gonzo journalism advice.

It’s silly and fun without neglecting the fact that political journalists take their work very seriously — regardless of the general public’s dwindling interest in caucuses, let alone electing candidates with legitimate résumés (a fact the show is very self-aware about in the dialogue). The Girls on the Bus is far enough removed from our own political reality to feel like fun escapism, but the stakes feel tangible enough to care about finding out which candidate receives the Democratic nomination.

It’s hard to make an exciting show about journalism, particularly at a time of widespread layoffs across the industry and misinformation circulating on social media. When shows do depict journalists, they tend to be soapier than anything else (I’m looking at you, The Morning Show and The Newsroom). But just like The Bold Type was able to capture a fantastical and grounded vision of working for Cosmopolitan, The Girls on the Bus finds a way to make secret sources, off-the-record conversations, and breaking stories engaging without taking itself too seriously, all with the help of believable chemistry between the leads and writing that feels pulled from the page of a political journalist’s expertise. Hopefully we’ll get to ride again with The Girls on the Bus.

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The Girls on the Bus Just Wants to Have Fun