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Recommended: Paper Girls on Amazon Prime Video

Nuanced characters give heft to a familiar sci-fi action story.
  • Ali Wong and Riley Lai Nelet in Paper Girls. (Photo: Anjali Pinto/Prime Video)
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    Paper Girls Season 1 | Amazon Prime Video
    Hourlong Sci-Fi Drama (8 Episodes) | TV-MA

    What's Paper Girls About?

    In 1988, four 12 year-old girls are out delivering newspapers when they stumble upon a group of time traveling soldiers. The next thing they know, they're in 2019, trying to figure out how to get home without getting killed.

    Who's involved?

    • The central pre-teens are played by a quartet of newcomers: Riley Lai Nelet is Erin Tieng, a first-generation American who's hungry for independence but feels responsible to her Chinese immigrant mother. Sofia Rosinsky is Mac Coyle, a poor kid from a bad family whose toughness and intolerance barely cover her sadness. Fina Strazza is K.J. Brandman, who is dreadng her bat mitzvah and is unafraid to fight for people she loves. Camryn Jones is Tiffany Quilkin, a confident, smart Black girl who's pretty sure she'll be successful when she grows up.
    • Ali Wong (Always Be My Maybe; Baby Cobra) is the adult version of Erin. She's shocked when her twelve year-old self shows up in 2019, and she's embarrassed that she doesn't have a better grown-up life to show off.
    • Adina Porter (American Horror Story) is the Prioress, one of the leaders of an army that wants to punish time travelers for trying to change a future where the rich and powerful have it good.
    • Nate Corddry (For All Mankind; Perry Mason) is Larry, part of the rebel faction that's trying to keep the Prioress and her cronies from controlling the planet for the rest of time.

    Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?

    Let's be frank: Paper Girls is an assemblage of sci-fi adventure parts that fans of the genre have seen many times before. Obviously the girls join forces with the rebels in 2019, and obviously, adult Erin taps undiscovered strength as she suddenly becomes responsible for protecting a group of kids who have stepped out of their timeline. And of course the entire story is an unsubtle allegory for left-leaning political concerns about class disparity, racial harmony, and gender roles. Any Star Trek fan will see this coming.

    Meanwhile, because Stranger Things casts a long shadow, there are plenty of action set pieces, 80s pop culture references, and shopping mall sequences. Viewers will also spot similarities to Transformers (in the form of a giant robot that's somehow essential to time travel) and Terminator 2 (when an actor with an Edward Furlong haircut has an emotional moment on the back of motorcycle.)

    Still, all of the above is agreeably distracting, and since the episodes are both action-packed and only around 40 minutes long, they zip right by.

    And for those who  look closer, the series comes alive in the subplots that surround its central story. In 2019, for instance, Mac reconnects with her beloved older brother, a former juvenile delinquent who is now a successful doctor. Their reunion forces them to be honest about how much they love each other, and to acknowledge the mistakes they made when they were young, bigoted jerks in the 80s. It's a sophisticated bit of moral searching tucked in an episode whose primary set piece involves a chase scene at a Chili's.

    Similarly, Ali Wong and Riley Lai Nelet have a mournful curiosity about each other: The older Erin looks sadly at the girl who doesn't know the pain that's awaiting her, while the younger one is aghast at the sight of the woman she might become. Their scenes have the sting that any of us might feel if we had to explain our worst days to our younger selves.

    There are also powerful moments where the two Erins speak Chinese to each other without explaining themselves to anyone else, where Jeff looks at personal mementos that don't get an immediate backstory, and where K.J. telegraphs gay yearing for Mac with just a few glances. It's possible these elements will be directly addressed later, but it's a testament to the series that it immediately gives its characters subtle layers and trusts us to notice them. The people on screen feel like complex human beings instead of just vessels for high concept action.

    Pairs well with

    • From, Epix's sci-fi horror series about people trapped in a dangerous, middle American community.
    • Naomi, the recently canceled CW-verse series about a Black teen comic book geek who investigates a supernatural event. (Streams on HBO Max and CWTV.com.)
    • Red Dawn, the classic 80s film about a group of teens who have to mobilize after World War III breaks out near their town. (Available for purchase on Amazon Video.)

  • Paper Girls (Season 1)
    Complete first season drops on Prime Video Friday July 29, 2022.
    Created by: Stephany Folsom and Fina Strazza. Based on the comic book series by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang.
    Starring: Ali Wong, Adina Porter, Nate Corddry, Jason Mantzoukas, Riley Lai Nelet, Sofia Rosinsky, Camryn Jones, and Cliff Chamberlain.
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    TOPICS: Paper Girls, Amazon Prime Video, Adina Porter, Ali Wong, Camryn Jones, Cliff Chamberlain, Fina Strazza, Jason Mantzoukas, Nate Corddry, Riley Lai Nelet, Sofia Rosinsky, Stephany Folsom