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Paper Girls Review

Prime Video are further expanding their pool of graphic novel adaptations with the long-awaited live-action Paper Girls series, following the success of Garth Ennis’ The Boys and Preacher, along with Robert Kirkman’s Invincible. Based on the beloved and multi Eisner award-winning YA sci-fi story written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Cliff Chiang, the eight-episode adaptation is a timey wimey coming-of-age tale set throughout the 80s, 90s and 00s. But with the most recent adaptation of Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man shockingly cancelled after one season, can the streaming service do justice to the expansive storytelling and often futuristic sci-fi visuals of Paper Girls?

On one fateful morning known as “Hell Day” 1988 – the morning after Halloween – four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls’ lives are turned upside down as they find themselves caught in the crossfire between warring time-travelling factions. Flung thirty years into the future, Erin (Riley Lai Nelet), Mac (Sofia Rosinsky), K.J. (Fina Strazza), and Tiff (Camryn Jones) struggle to find a way to get back home, enlisting the help of the grown-up versions of themselves. But in doing so, their activity attracts the attention of the militant time-travelers known as the Old Watch, a faction from the future who have outlawed time travel completely, with their actions deemed a ‘capital’ offence. Hunted down and with time running out till the next time-rifts opening, can the girls overcome their differences and band together to return back to the past?

For longtime fans looking for a direct panel-for-panel adaptation – or viewers searching for an 80’s-based series to help fill the Stranger Things sized hole while you wait for the final season – Paper Girls might not be quite what you’re looking for. Overall, the series is very different to the graphic novels; certain narrative threads, futuristic sci-fi elements and time jumps have been altered, some have been explored with greater nuance and depth, while others are still yet to be seen – seemingly omitted from the first season. On the whole, the time-travelling adventure is on a smaller scale than the ambitious source material, with a more contained and grounded tale embracing the emotional coming-of-age drama, harking back to films Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Stand by Me.

Despite the action-packed and fast-paced opening episode, the time-hoppy nature of the graphic novels makes way for a more deliberate and character-driven tale. In some cases, this may be met with a certain amount of disappointment (trust me, I also wanted to see the giant Tardigrade battle!), however the central performances and character dynamics are just so compelling throughout. The casting of the titular four is absolutely perfect and each of the breakout leads really are impressive – both in their own arcs and as a group. Sofia Rosinsky impressively channels Edward Furlong’s effortlessly cool John Connor, while Camryn Jones excels as the genius Tiffany. Riley Lai Nelet proves one of the biggest hearts of the show, while Fina Strazza is one of the more fascinating as KJ. Together, their resolute determination to not give up on being who they are – despite the odds and their future selves – really does shine throughout.

Showrunner Chris Rogers affords more of the runtime to further explore the more reflective and personal moments briefly touched upon the pages. Important aspects such as KJ’s sexuality and the literal ‘coming-of-age’ period sequence are explored with much more nuance, while a new addition to Mac’s arc makes for an incredibly moving development. With many sci-fi shows historically skewed towards more male leads, its great to see such a female fronted show delving into real and more inclusive issues including growing pains, the harsh realities of growing up and positive female friendships too. However, with more of the runtime devoted to the core four, the characters from the opposing warring factions (the STF, and the Old Watch) are definitely lacking, especially more so in the STF (or teenagers in the source material) camp.

Certain aspects of the graphic novel were always going to be tricky to bring to life in a live-action series without a gigantic Lord of the Rings style budget. And yes, that budget does seem to be somewhat lacking in the visual effects department, which may answer the question to why some of the futuristic elements appear to be missing. Given the size and scope of the source material, the series may have leant itself more to the animated medium – particularly following the success of Invincible. However, the cinematography from Tarin Anderson and Zack Galler fantastically brings to life the distinct visual style of the source material, with a slightly grittier and grungier aesthetic (and soundtrack) to the 80’s small-town America than Stranger Things. While there will undeniably be numerous comparisons to the Netflix series, it’s fascinating to see the distinct move away from the glossy 80’s nostalgia of that show, delving far greater into the decade’s historical real-world issues such as Reaganomics, the change in attitude to sexuality and race, as well as unemployment issues.


With the more expansive sci-fi and time travelling elements making way for a character-driven coming-of-age drama, Prime Video’s adaptation of Paper Girls may split viewers. But with such compelling central performances and intriguing character arcs, you easily become immersed in the adventure. With a fascinating finale teasing more timey wimey hijinks – there’s definitely potential for an even greater second series.