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The Girls on the Bus Imagines a Political Reality That Doesn't Exist

In Episode 4, "Two Americas," the drama puts forth the fanciful notion that it's possible to separate the personal from the political.
  • Christina Elmore in The Girls on the Bus (Photo: Nicole Rivelli/Max)
    Christina Elmore in The Girls on the Bus (Photo: Nicole Rivelli/Max)

    As The Girls on the Bus approaches the halfway mark of the season, it's no longer controversial to say that the Max series is wholly divorced from reality. Critics are in agreement that the drama, based on Amy Chozick's 2018 memoir Chasing Hillary, fails to accurately depict journalism and life on the campaign trail; co-creators Chozick and Julie Plec even embrace escapism as protagonist Sadie McCarthy (Melissa Benoist), a reporter for New York's biggest paper, compares presidential candidates to contestants on The Bachelor and daydreams about Scott Foley's small-town mayor stripping to Ginuwine's "Pony." But Episode 4, "Two Americas," offers the show's most egregious moment of fantasy yet as socialist, Gen Z influencer Lola (Natasha Behnam) and Fox News stand-in Kimberlyn (Christina Elmore) go to battle, only to lay down their arms in the name of friendship.

    The Girls on the Bus has never hidden its girl power mindset — "We may have started as competitors, but we would end as a family," Sadie explains via voiceover in the premiere — but the first three episodes at least glance at conflict between the four women at its center. Sadie and Grace (Carla Gugino), the Pulitzer-winning journalist and most respected of the group, mock Lola's lack of experience, while an early conversation between Sadie and Kimberlyn seeks to probe how reporters "remain objective with a story that is fundamentally not objective." Lola is also the only one to address the elephant in the room, asking Kimberlyn point-blank, "What's a Black woman doing working at Liberty White Nationalist News?" (Kimberlyn's response? "They are racist because everyone is racist. At least they're honest about it.")

    The ideological debate between Lola and Kimberlyn, a conservative who idolizes Ronald Reagan, rages on into Episode 4. The two trade jabs at the funeral of the elderly Democratic frontrunner (who suffers a heart attack while attempting to prove he's fit enough to run a 5K), with Lola accusing Kimberlyn of "crying crocodile tears" after spending the past few weeks "sh*tting on" the late candidate, and Kimberlyn defending herself by drawing a line between her job and her personal feelings. "That was politics, Lola," she says. "This is an actual memorial service. I am a real human being." She reiterates this sentiment while speaking to loathsome Liberty News anchor Nellie Carmichael (Leslie Fray) outside the church, admitting, "The vitriol– it can get so personal sometimes. It feels like we're supposed to be talking about policy."

    "Two Americas" writer Jenna Richman seems to understand that Kimberlyn's argument is flawed — or at a minimum, that it ought to be checked. Both women offer rebuttals: While Lola insists the memorial is inherently political, as it's "all one bullsh*t performance," Nellie reminds Kimberlyn that she's "supposed to be making television," not educating the public about the candidates. Although they come from opposite perspectives, their responses hint at the naivete of Kimberlyn's position, particularly given the current state of the political media landscape.

    But by the end of the episode, Kimberlyn and her center-right ideals are vindicated. Lola's harsh words at the funeral send Kimberlyn running to Nellie, and the two bond over the fact that Lola's social feed is filled with sponsored content. (This storyline never makes sense; Lola claims her videos "average a million views across all platforms," but she's forced to shill random products to fund her time on the campaign trail?) When Lola learns the Liberty News reporters have been talking about her behind her back, she's hurt, but all is forgotten after a sincere apology from Kimberlyn. "I know that you and I disagree on a lot of things," Kimberlyn says after Lola opens up about surviving a school shooting, an experience that inspired her to become a changemaker. "But I like you. I think you're a good person. Disastrous opinions or not."

    Kimberlyn and Lola's truce is intended to reinforce the notion that it's possible to separate the personal from the political — that debates over legislation and public policy don't have to (and shouldn't) get in the way of existing relationships. It doesn't take years on the campaign trail to recognize how fanciful this idea truly is. When the Supreme Court strips women of their reproductive rights, when Republicans routinely block voting rights bills, when conservatives wage a systematic campaign against the LGBTQ+ community, it becomes apparent that the political is personal. For the people affected by these policies, the conflict highlighted in "Two Americas" isn't just a disagreement between friends; it's a matter of life and death. To suggest otherwise is delusional, if not downright harmful.

    What's more, it's offensive to argue that Lola (who catches enough strays from older, center-left liberals as it is) would be swayed by Kimberlyn's calls for civil disagreement. Of all the women, Lola is most resolute in her political opinions: She openly supports the leftist presidential candidate (Tala Ashe, playing an analog of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) and has clearly been hardened by her futile experience fighting for gun reform — and fighting against conservatives like Kimberlyn, at that. Why would Lola suddenly compromise her beliefs just to make nice with a woman she met a few weeks prior on the campaign trail? Particularly when Kimberlyn's job (as Nellie so helpfully reminds her) is to make people like Lola out to be radicals destroying the American way of life with their demands for change? Lola is smart enough to know better, but The Girls on the Bus would rather pile stereotypes about Gen Z-ers and social media influencers on Behnam's character than afford her the respect she deserves.

    Female solidarity is important, sure, but if Chozick and Plec really think it trumps the ideological dispute between Lola and Kimberlyn, they're living in a fantasy land. For a show that happily brings Hunter S. Thompson (P.J. Sosko) back from the dead and relies on sexy reveries to communicate its characters' desires, that's saying something.

    New episodes of The Girls on the Bus drop Thursdays on Max. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: The Girls on the Bus, Max, Amy Chozick, Carla Gugino, Christina Elmore, Julie Plec, Melissa Benoist, Natasha Behnam