Friday, July 29, 2022

Paper Girls, on Prime

Remember how great the future looked in 1988? The music and movies were consistently fun and George H.W. Bush was poised to be elected president in a veritable landslide. So, how did the 2010s and 2020s turn out so badly? Maybe four newspaper deliverers will find out. They are about to be swept into a time-war in Stephany Folsom’s 8-episode Paper Girls, based on Brian K. Vaughan’s comics, which premieres today on Prime Video.

It is the morning after Halloween (but not for long), when many of the drunken teenaged troublemakers are still roaming the streets. Erin Tieng picked a heck of a first day to start her paper route. Tiffany Quilkin, a savvier paper girl helps show her the ropes. Soon, they meet up with tough-talking Mac Coyle and preppy-ish KJ Brandman, forming a temporary alliance to finish their deliveries together. However, the drunken bullies are not the only ones prowling around their suburban Cleveland neighborhood.

Fatefully, the four girls are caught up in a skirmish between future time-traveling revolutionaries, the STF (Standard Time Fighters), who want to prevent all the bad things from happening, and the “Old Watch,” the reactionaries fighting to protect their privileged positions (and maybe the integrity of the whole space-time continuum dealio). Disoriented after traveling through a worm-hole, the girls decide to hide out at Tieng’s home. They find she is still living there, but she did not turn out how the twelve-year-old would have hoped. As they navigate the future, other girls learn revelations about themselves from family members and in some cases, their future selves.

Folsom’s adaptation of Vaughan’s comics features some pretty intriguing time-travel twists. It is somewhat unusual to hear the old arguments against altering history so casually dismissed, but let’s be honest. The truth is the real, old-school Doctor Who would probably agree with the Old Watch. Nevertheless, the 1980s nostalgia always works and despite some themes of sexuality (brought on by observations of the girls future’s selves),
Paper Girls is not annoyingly woke. In fact, the way Ronald Reagan acts as a sort of spirit guide for Tieng is kind of clever.

The battery of four directors (all veterans of episodic drama) keep action rolling along at a brisk pace. The generally shorter episode length (mostly around forty minutes) makes
Paper Girls highly bingeable. However, it might be a mistake to end the first season without a greater sense of resolution. After all, it could suffer the same fate as Prime’s cancelled Night Sky (which is also a pretty good show, but we’ll never know its ultimate secrets).

Still, the way the girls from the past confront their futures gives rise to a lot of sharply written drama. Riley Lai Nelet and Ali Wong are especially notable as young and adult Tieng, respectively. (It is strange though, that Jessika Van has so little screen time as her adult sister Missy, but she is good in the time she has, so maybe next season). Sofia Rosinsky also has some surprisingly touching moments with Cliff Chamberlain, playing her former-slacker brother Dylan (now a doctor). However, Quilkin encounters with the people in her future do not have the same emotional resonance, at least not yet.

Regardless, there is some pretty smart speculative fiction in
Paper Girls and the special effects are first-rate. There is even some stuff here for mecha fans. At its core, the notion of wanting to return to 1988 definitely strikes a chord, doesn’t it? Highly recommended for time travel fans, Paper Girls starts streaming today (7/29) on Prime Video.