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Paper Girls review: time-traveling, girl-power Goonies is good enough

Time travel, preteen coming-of-age drama, giant robots — there’s a lot going on in the first season of Prime Video’s new series Paper Girls. And yet somehow, it all blends together perfectly.

An adaptation of Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s comic book series of the same name, Paper Girls follows a group of four girls in 1988 whose seemingly mundane newspaper-delivery gig is thrown into chaos when they become caught in the middle of a war between rival factions of time travelers. Tossed back and forth in time, the girls soon discover that the futures they envisioned for themselves don’t always match up with how things turned out and that messing with time too much could result in having no future at all.

The four stars of Paper Girls sit on their bicycles on a dark street.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Relying on an ensemble cast of child actors to carry a series aimed at older audiences is always a bit risky, but as Stranger Things and other shows have proven, it’s a gamble that can pay off in a big way when it works out. And much like Stranger Things, the strength of the series’ script, direction, and talented young cast keep Paper Girls make the show’s first season a memorable one.

The series’ four, eponymous “paper girls” include aspiring engineer Tiffany Quilkin (played by Camryn Jones), shy new girl Erin Tieng (Riley Lai Nelet), rich girl KJ Brandman (Fina Strazza), and rebellious Mac Coyle (Sofia Rosinsky), who begin the series with little connection to each other beyond their early-morning job, but grow closer as the fantastic (and often life-threatening) events transpiring around them first turn them into reluctant allies, and eventually, friends. Over the course of the season’s eight episodes, each character comes into greater focus as, one by one, they’re forced to confront — or in some cases, seek help from — the adults they become.

Sofia Rosinsky, Riley Lai Nelet, Camryn Jones, and Fina Strazza look up at a pink sky in a scene from Paper Girls.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Playing the quartet of unlikely time-hopping heroes, the show’s four leads are a force to be reckoned with, comfortably carrying the heavier dramatic moments of the series as easily as its lighthearted humor. Given how much emotional ground Paper Girls covers — from the characters’ mortality and sexual identity to their first crushes and the onset of puberty — the actors’ ability to ground all of these elements amid all of the sci-fi craziness unfolding around them is a testament to their talents and those of the show’s creative team.

Although Stranger Things feels like one of the more recent projects to name-drop for the sake of comparison, Paper Girls feels more spiritually and thematically similar to a project a few decades older: 1985’s The Goonies.

While the language and body count in Paper Girls is considerably harsher than that of the 1985 film, both feature a ragtag group of ’80s kids forced to problem-solve their way out of a dangerous situation in order to protect their lives and the futures they envision for themselves. And like The GooniesPaper Girls feels like a story about a bunch of kids that’s likely to resonate most powerfully with today’s adults.

Ali Wong stands in front of Riley Lai Nelet in a scene from Paper Girls.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

That’s particularly true with the series’ early episodes, which feature Ali Wong (Always Be My Maybe) as the adult Erin, a woman who feels trapped in a life that has strayed far from the future she wanted for herself as a child. When she’s suddenly faced with her younger self and forced to answer for what she’s done with her life, Paper Girls delivers a psychological gut-punch that primes you for what’s to come: A story about reconciling who we want to be with who we really are, wrapped up in a candy-colored sci-fi saga.

And although Paper Girls expertly handles the story’s dramatic moments of soul-searching, it also delivers plenty of genuinely fun, cheer-worthy moments and visual spectacle, too.

The four stars of Paper Girls stand next to a fence with "Hell Day" written on it.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

It doesn’t take long to become invested in the characters’ journey — not just their efforts to return to their own timeline, but their hopes and dreams, too. Every win they experience feels like a victory for the young and inspired against the old and oppressive, and the actors throw themselves into the high points of their characters’ adventure just as emphatically as the disappointments along the way. That many of those highs and lows also involve some spectacular visual elements — from giant robots and space ships to towering dinosaurs — ends up being the icing on the series’ sci-fi cake.

The conclusion of season 1 of Paper Girls leaves plenty of uncertainty about where the girls’ journey will take them next (and frustratingly little closure on the events so far), but the series does enough over its first eight episodes to make its cliffhanger ending feel somewhat appropriate, given the scope of the saga they’re wrapped up in. If we’re lucky, it will only be a matter of time before we see more of them.

Season 1 of Paper Girls premieres July 29 on Amazon Prime Video streaming service.

Paper Girls (2022)

Paper Girls
tv-ma 1 Season
Genre Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Cast Camryn Jones, Riley Lai Nelet, Sofia Rosinsky
Created by Stephany Folsom

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