While some initially compared Paper Girls to Stranger Things, it really isn’t. While this is because the only connection is a group of kids in a different time period than ours, Paper Girls doesn’t thrive on nostalgia, it thrives on growth and telling a different kind of coming-of-age story. What if you met the future you and they’re nothing like you imagined, how do you come to terms with a life vastly different you imagined in your childhood dreams?
Based on the best-selling graphic novels of the same name written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Cliff Chiang, and published by Image Comics, Paper Girls comes from showrunner Stephany Folsom. This Prime Video Original series stars phenomenal breakout leads and industry vets alike with Camryn Jones, Riley Lai Nelet, Sofia Rosinsky, Fina Strazza, Ali Wong, and Adina Porter.
Paper Girls is a science fiction smorgasbord. Starting in the early morning hours after Halloween 1988, four paper girls—Erin (Riley Lai Nelet), Mac (Sofia Rosinsky), Tiffany (Camryn Jones), and KJ ( Fina Strazza)—are out on their delivery route when they become caught in the crossfire between warring time-travelers, changing the course of their lives forever. Transported into the future, the girls must figure out a way to get back home to 1988 while also avoiding ruthless time-travelers known as the Old Watch, tasked with keeping the timeline clean and to ultimately stay in power.
While surviving time travel and growing together through it is enough of a time-tested coming-of-age story, Paper Girls adds in one more element, meeting your adult future-self. Sure this sounds fun, but having to prove that you’re, well, you from the past while also having to come to terms with daunting life and identity changes that you couldn’t even have fathomed is the recipe for a special kind of story. Add in the fact that these 12-year-olds don’t all really like each other (and one is a racist) and the struggle to survive is a difficult one. Not only must the girls find a path for survival but they have to learn to trust each other in the process, even if it’s uncomfortable.
And to be honest, Paper Girls gets uncomfortable throughout its run time. Whether it is the girls having to face uncomfortable truths about the future or having tough conversations with each other to keep moving forward, there is a depth to Paper Girls that expertly works. Yes, this is a series about time travel and robots and pink-purple color filters that make everything otherworldly but it’s also about the process of grieving your dreams and with it, yourself.
The beauty of Paper Girls is that it never loses its greatest storytelling device: a child’s perspective. Even as the girls grow and mature in situations that push them past what they thought they could do, Paper Girls ensures to not lose sight of their ages, their curiosity, their vulnerability, or their innocence that comes with their age.
Yes, even as bad things happen around them repeatedly.
This also helps the series to tell a dynamic story that is only possible by understanding the absolute power imbalance between them and the forces they’re fighting. Even when they have the answers, the girls are beholden to older people around them. This ups the tension and the emotion in the series that never gets overshadowed by the mechs, the time travel, or to put it simply, the science fiction of it all.
Now, Paper Girls isn’t perfect. Some elements like Mac’s racism don’t get their due moments of exploration and rebuttal from the girl it affects most but instead is explained through anti-semitism by KJ, which leaves a lot to be desired in Mac’s character. In fact, the only reason Mac understands the issue with her racism is that KJ’s whiteness allows Mac to not view her pushback as an act of aggression or reprimand. This undercuts Mac’s growth and ultimately the act of understanding between her and Erin, the subject of her racist bullying feel hollow. Additionally, the season’s final episode takes off at a breakneck pace, working in what feels like could be at least one or two more episodes in the series into just one. But that’s always the issue with this small batch of episode format.
That said, none of this stops the series from excelling. Paper Girls is a home run. To circle back to how I began this review, Paper Girls shouldn’t be compared to Stranger Things, because they’re nothing alike. But more importantly because this series deserves to stand on its own. It’s not baked in nostalgia, it’s baked in growing up and confronting who you’ll become and the scariness that comes with that. The future, as much as the Old Watch, is as much a specter of fear that grows throughout the series, and something that works perfectly.
It’s a beautiful and powerful series that uses science fiction to propel questions of identity and growing up in a very real way. Getting your period for the first time, realizing your crushes, and understanding the difficulties life will put in front of you at no fault of your own. While the series’ cliffhanger makes Season 2 a must, Paper Girls is built by a stellar cast of young actresses that I can’t wait to see more from in the future.
Paper Girls is a beautiful and powerful series that uses science fiction to propel questions of identity and growing up in a very real way. Getting your period for the first time, realizing your crushes, and understanding the difficulties life will put in front of you at no fault of your own.