In The Girls on the Bus, the Real Democracy Was the Friends We Made Along the Way

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In The Girls on the Bus, the Real Democracy Was the Friends We Made Along the Way

Max’s The Girls on the Bus had quite the journey to the small screen. Based on the book Chasing Hillary by co-creator Amy Chozick, the series was originally developed for Netflix before moving to The CW and eventually being retooled for Max. But it’s finally out in the world in its entirety, 10 episodes and eight delightful weeks later, and in the aftermath of the finale, I’m so, so sad to see this series bow out for the season. Despite being politically stunted (trapped in 2016, specifically) and using its political moves and motives as mere set dressing for its larger, more melodramatic ambitions, this show has been a must-watch every week, delivering the kind of well-lit, millennial, soapy drama the likes of which we haven’t seen since The Bold Type ended its tenure at Freeform. 

In the final episode, The Girls on the Bus makes good on its first episode flash-forward that featured Sadie (Melissa Benoist) getting arrested by the FBI for something before the episode took us back to the very beginning, focusing on four female journalists placed on the same candidate’s campaign bus. Over the course of the season, we’ve watched as Sadie, Grace (Carla Gugino), Lola (Natasha Behnam), and Kimberlyn (Christina Elmore) have become like family, coming together in spite of their different beliefs, careers, and backgrounds. And in this final episode, they join forces to take down the crooked candidate in the pocket of Big Crypto, known colloquially as “Hot White Guy,” before each ultimately achieving their end goals in a satisfying final-moments montage. 

By the time the credits roll on Episode 10, titled “The Everydays,” each of these women has been changed for the better, ultimately from the close-knit family they created on the road. Kimberlyn, once hardly anything more than an under-appreciated, tokenized host for the series’ Fox stand-in Liberty Direct, has recognized her worth, utilizing the lessons she learned from Lola and her social media savvy to orchestrate the perfect viral moment to launch her own news outlet. To see the relationship blossom between Kimberlyn and Lola in particular was a true highlight of the series, showcasing a friendship that crosses the bounds of political “sides” and differences to understand a contrasting point of view than the echo-chamber we each create within our own lives. And Lola, for all her jabs at traditional media throughout the course of the series, realized the worth of tried-and-true journalism while using her out-of-the-box methods to secure herself a position at The Wall Street Journal by season’s end—all thanks to the ways Sadie, Grace, and Kimberlyn encouraged and taught her through their time on the bus.

Sadie and Grace, each head-strong and stubborn in their own ways, also found themselves fundamentally changed by their time with both each other and Kimberlyn and Lola. Sadie finally saw enough sense to stop running from her feelings, and Grace found a better way to balance her work with her home life, even encouraging her daughter to step into the bullpen with her. As the final episode comes to a close, it’s so satisfying to see the clear ways each of these women have influenced each other, and have become better people by helping each other rather than tear each other down in the fierce competition the industry encourages.

Whether it be a group of vampires navigating eternal life or a group of reporters navigating the clash of the political and the personal, the most compelling part of a good old-fashioned melodrama is not the theater of its premise, but the way that is used as a vehicle to simply get characters in a room together, mixing and matching episode to episode as they hash out everything from classified sources to their crumbling marriages. And its that network-esque sensibility (likely injected by co-creator Julie Plec) that allowed this series to remain appointment viewing each week, banking not only on its soapy twists and season-long mystery, but also on the earnest and heartfelt connections created amongst the characters themselves while creating an unshakable bond to its audience.

I didn’t come to The Girls on the Bus for any hard-hitting political takes or even an honest or slightly realistic look at journalism. I showed up for The Girls on the Bus every single week because Sadie, Kimberlyn, Lola, and Grace showed up for each other, and, in turn, showed up for me. Because, in the midst of the series’ oftentimes cynical outlook on modern politics, the state of journalism, and the horrifying ways in which the downfall of both are creating a firestorm no one really knows how to put out, this show (as well as the titular Girls at its center) dared to hope and dream of a better tomorrow—not through breaking stories or shady dealings (though there was plenty of that), but through the ways they cared for each other and found connection when they were least expecting it. It’s a story about friendship, first and foremost, that radically chooses to focus its efforts less on delivering prestige buzz through twisty plotting and overwritten pacing and instead attributes admirable weight to the simple details of these women’s lives. 

It’s a show where everything is the end of the world, but all those problems can (and always will) be solved by a simple yet honest conversation. The Girls on the Bus doesn’t just dare to dream of a better tomorrow (if superficially) in politics, but instead in challenging the harrowing state of friendship, both onscreen and off. Empathy and connection are what won The Girls on the Bus its race, and in a world where friendships are transactional and TV seems more focused on how many twists loosely-sketched almost-characters can weather, that’s worth a hell of a lot. 

Anna Govert is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and her unshakable love of complicated female villains, you can follow her @annagovert.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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