‘Paper Girls’ Review: Travelling Between Timelines Looks Fun but Takes Forever to Deliver
Prime Video’s sci-fi teen drama Paper Girls is a comic book adaptation, written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Cliff Chiang, is a high-stakes series that depicts the journey and hardships of four preteen paper girls, who are in the middle of a war between two time-travelling factions from the future. In the last year, time-travelling narratives have become quite popular; with Loki, Russian Doll, and The Umbrella Academy playing huge parts in the genre. Paper Girls is a blend of action, drama, and there are some comparisons to Stranger Things, which doesn’t feel quite as deserved. Even though the series has an important focus on their friendship, which is essentially the heart of the show, it takes too long to get to the climax.
In the early morning hours after Halloween night, Erin (Riley Lai Nelet) leaves her home to deliver newspapers in her neighbourhood in a suburb in 1988. She meets other paper girls: Mac (Sofia Rosinsky), a tomboy who got the job from her brother to support her family; Tiffany (Camryn Jones), a genius with the dreams of going to MIT; and KJ (Fina Strazza), who takes the job to stay away from her parents and their expectations. While the preteen paper girls are delivering newspapers in their neighbourhood, they bump into some people and are accidentally transported to 2019. The sky turns neon pink and they find themselves in the middle of a time-travelling war between two factions, who are both from the future. Unbeknownst to them, Erin suggests going to her home and asking her mother for help but instead, they run into an older, forty-something Erin (Ali Wong). As they are hunted by the time-travelling police, they find help from Larry (Nate Corddry), a rebel who helps them figure out how they can get back to their own timeline.
Paper Girls attempts to establish a universe with underground rebels fighting a powerful authority and at the same time, builds a great friendship between the girls. It’s an adventurous series that discusses the trials and tribulations of preteen life and how growing up is not what they expected it to be. As the intersecting timelines and themes immerse together, the results are disastrous. While the narrative begins to show that the story has high stakes involved for the young and older versions of themselves, the show takes way too much time with exposition. Because of this, the story structure fails to convey the danger in the main plot and makes the other elements a complete mess.
However, Paper Girls conveys immense emotional stakes for all of the characters. The series plays on the idea of: if you were able to talk to your future self, what would you say? When Erin learns that her future self is nothing like how she had imagined herself to be, she is crushed. The older Erin lives alone in the same house she shared with her mother and sister, and she doesn’t have a great relationship with the latter anymore. Tiffany meets her older self (Sekai Abenì) and learns about a family secret that crushes her entire world. Adult Tiffany lives a life that she desires, instead of keeping up with her mother’s expectations for her education. Mac discovers that her future self died years ago, and her brother Dylan (Cliff Chamberlain) turned his life around to make the world a better place. But Mac feels like her whole life was robbed and she has resentment towards Dylan’s perfect family, something that she never had in the past. KJ struggles with her sexuality, and when she meets her older version (Delia Cunningham), she learns that that version is much happier with who she is. These emotional stakes are compelling and much more interesting than the story itself. Every journey by the young and older versions of the characters has gone through something that is deeply traumatic and life-changing. The younger versions stop to ask themselves and process how they feel when their future isn’t exactly the way they wanted it to be, and if given the second chance, would they change it?
These questions are speculated and as with every science fiction series, the characters know the implications of these changes can be deadly to that timeline. Even if Paper Girls loses some of the sci-fi elements with crazy expositions, the series always focuses on the four preteen girls. They talk about their insecurities and period problems, while also tackling the bigger problems haunting their existence. From strangers to best friends, it takes a while for the four girls to collectively bind themselves and come together to save the day. Erin, Mac, Tiffany and KJ learn that nothing is more important than travelling between timelines with their best friends.