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Paper Girls Review

Amazon Prime Video continues to expand its original library of adaptations from popular graphic novels with its latest offering, Paper Girls. As nostalgia from the 80s has reached an all-time high in recent shows and films, Paper Girls looks to continue that trend. Based on the critically acclaimed graphic novel series by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Cliff Chiang, the first season is a coming-of-age story that uses time travel as a plot device that begins in the 80s and jumps into different eras in time, from the 90s to the present. With such a dedicated fan base, the series fully adapts the sci-fi drama into a story that threads on the fears of knowing your future and how that shapes you.

Taking place on the day after Halloween in 1988, Paper Girls follow four young 12-year-old girls who take jobs delivering newspapers on their bikes. However, their world gets turned upside down when they find themselves caught in the middle of a war between two warring factions of time travelers. After getting accidentally transported 30 years into the future, Erin (Riley Lai Nelet), Tiff (Camryn Jones), Mac (Sofia Rosinsky), and K.J. (Fina Strazza) struggle to find a way back to their time, relying on grown-up versions of themselves. Following on their trail are an authoritative group of time travelers called the Old Guard, who have punished those who violate time traveling illegally. Along the way, these four girls learn about where they end up in their respective futures and contemplate how it’ll shape them as individuals. With time running out and being hunted down, the series goes deep into how these four girls overcome their differences to find a way home.

Fans of the source material may find this to be a pretty faithful adaptation with some noticeable differences. Parts of the narrative and sci-fi elements are changed in some aspects, as more of the relationship with these four girls is further explored. Other parts of the plot seem to be missing or are yet to be seen after watching the first season. The time-traveling part of the series isn’t so heavily in the forefront as the graphic novels, with the show being more of a coming-of-age tale. There’s not a lot of action that happens in the series outside of the Old Guard chasing our four heroines, being led by Prioress (Adina Porter).

Despite its shortcomings when it comes to the sci-fi elements of the story, the more personal stories of these four girls more than makeup for it. The casting of the titular four characters is perfect with each of the actresses breaking ground on their own and as a group. Riley is the heart of the show playing the shy yet open Erin, who is new to the group when we first meet her and learn how much of a struggle she faces with her ethnicity as well as living with a single parent and having a strained relationship with her sister. Sofia brings out her inner tomboy, embodying a young Edward Furlong. Fina also has a great arc as she discovers herself and her future while Camryn embraces her character’s intelligent side. With everything happening to their characters, we can’t help but feel for them and the cast does a great job in making their mark on the show.

The series relies on the exploration of each of these characters, resulting in some powerful and emotional moments with every single one of them. We get to see these young women coming of age as they discover where they end up in the future and how it shapes them for better or worse. We don’t get to spend too much time with the future selves of our main characters, which can be understandable due to the length of these episodes and how quickly these stories move. We also don’t get to grow familiar with the members of the Old Guard and the STF regarding how these two warring factions end up at odds with each other. We also get some fish-out-of-water vibes from these girls as they interact with our present technology and how much time has changed since the 80s. What is great about the series is exploring female issues that resonate with women today, whether it’s being an adolescent or female empowerment. 

It also seems like the sci-fi elements are lacking in the Paper Girls adaptation as well. The source material can be a little difficult to pull off on screen without having a huge budget of this scale. When graphic novels first came out, they were heralded as one of the most visually stunning pieces of work ever put out. Even though the sci-fi elements were there, it still felt very real and down to Earth. It explains why some of the visual effects aren’t as great as they should be, being tricky to bring something as epic as this graphic novel series to life. However, the style works for the show thanks to the amazing cinematography and also getting to mimic that 80s nostalgia that shows like Stranger Things are known for. There are going to be comparisons made to the immensely popular Netflix series, but Paper Girls does stand apart from that by tackling some real issues like race, sexuality, and social class. 

Overall, Paper Girls is a brilliant series that is very character-driven, taking the approach of a coming-of-age saga that mixes some sci-fi elements. With some great performances from our four main leads, audiences will be deeply invested in this group of girls and how they grow with one another. Despite its shortcomings when it comes to the time-travel plot, the show more than makes up for it with an amazing cast and a sick soundtrack. Paper Girls has a lot of heart and delivers like our titular heroes. 

Paper Girls is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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