Paper Girls follows four young girls who, while out delivering papers in the early hours after Halloween in 1988, are inadvertently caught in a war between two factions of time-travellers that sends them on an adventure through time to save the world. They travel between the past, present and future- encountering future versions of themselves and must choose to embrace or reject their fate. The show is based on the best-selling graphic novels of the same name written by Brian K. Vaughn and is a high-stakes personal journey depicted through the eyes of four girl, played by breakout leads Camryn Jones as Tiffany Quilkin, Riley Lai Nelet as Erin Tieng, Sofia Rosinsky as Mac Coyle, and Fina Strazza as KJ Brandman. Ali Wong also stars as the grown-up version of Erin, with Nate Corddry as Larry, and Adina Porter as Prioress.
The first episode opens with the grown-up version of Erin in 2019 but cleverly re-does the opening, shifting the focus to a younger version of Erin. There are clear parallels to the older version as they are woken but for different reasons. The show continues this, showing the other paper girls in 1988 getting ready for their shift the morning after Halloween. We are introduced to their different character dynamics, personality, and home life to get a good sense of the characters before they eventually join up in the events that will shape the rest of the series. The first episode gets to setting the series mysteries quite well with interesting choices that work for it. Particularly, members of the underground speaking with a voice that sounds like a walkie-talkie. It is an interesting choice that works well for the genre of the show but the first episode closing scene reverts to the opening with grown-up Erin, creating a nice loop and good creative choice.
When you are younger, you have dreams about what your life will be like. Your wants, dreams and aspirations and thinking about the people who will grow with you. At 12 years old, the paper girls have their own varied ambitions and are young enough to believe that will happen and not be disillusioned with the hardship of reality. Confronted with the grown-up version of herself, Erin is the first of the paper girls to confront the disappointment that is life. Riley Lai Nelet and Ali Wong give a good performance with editing that parallels the two of them freaking out about the situation. How you want your life to go versus the reality of life is something Erin is confronted with and disappointed as she finds out that nothing she wanted happened in her life while the other paper girls seem to, for the majority, enjoy the outcome of their lives.
The plot sometimes loses its way and can be messy at times, forgetting its focus with a threat that does not feel high stakes despite that being reiterated throughout the series. Where the plot can be lacking and muddled, the characters do make up for it. The most complex and interesting characters of the series are Mac (Sofia Rosinsky), KJ (Fina Strazza) and Larry (Nate Corddry). The series starts with Mac being unlikable and rude but as it progresses, Mac becomes the most interesting, complex, and complicated character but is let down by clunky dialogue that can hinder a great performance by Rosinsky. KJ is the heart of the show, showing depth and selfless actions but barely ever putting herself first, this is a stark comparison to Tiff. Tiff started off as a favourite but quickly became self-involved but Camryn Jones gives a good performance despite the shallowness of the character. Riley Lai Nelet is charming and likeable even when Erin expresses disappointment and anger at her grown-up version. With more interesting characters and arcs, after a few episodes Erin easily fades into the background.
The first five episodes are strong with great character development and interesting storylines and a focus on the plot, with some hints of a villain and stakes but after that, the series seems to lose its focus and rushes many plots and events that would have been better had they had more time to explore instead of being used as a quick jump from one plot to the next. The show goes downhill when the paper girls meet the grown-up version of Tiff, who seems to have lost her focus much like the rest of the series. There are good moments but sadly that does not involve Tiff who is too absorbed in themselves to notice anything else going on. The first half of the series focuses on Erin as the primary character and Mac as a mix of primary and secondary but Mac steals the show. The second half of the series changes with Tiff as the primary and KJ as a secondary focus. KJ has a more interesting arc of self discovery and identity while showing empathy towards others. KJ also tries to understand and come to terms with her future self and how that impacts her present, while Tiff has tunnel vision and can only see things that affect her life and her desired trajectory.
Overall, the chemistry between the paper girls is what saves the show and makes the concept of time travel and identity much more interesting. There is a scene in the second episode where the paper girls bond as they theorise over their dead parents and pets. It is a touching moment but not acted with the girls as sad, a great choice. The girls theorise what has happened as they come to terms with the fact that they are out of time and will never see those again. Standouts in that scene are Riley Lai Nelet as Erin laments the death of her mother, dreams, and the idea of who she has turned out to be. Another is Sofia Rosinsky as Mac Coyle who does a lot without uttering a single word. Mac does not participate in the conversation as she only ever cared for her brother but pretends to sleep. You see such a complexity of emotions that are matched with the stylistic choice of the director and editing. The series is benefited by music that is lively, boppy and out of place to the series in a way that works and emphasises the out of time theme. Sadly, where the show lacks is the CGI that looks like a low budget feature from years ago. Sometimes the CGI looks great, particularly with the Folding and the Absolution but that makes the bad CGI stand out. The futurist costumes stand out but not in a good way. It looks like a cheesy futuristic sci-fi costume that detracts from an otherwise interesting moment. Lastly, the show lacks a constant and present villain. The villain is more of a background character (but a very interesting one with a great performance from the actor!) but that could change and may be something the series is building up to in future seasons.
MVC is Mac. Mac adds the most to the series with an arc that brings complexity and a great performance. Mac goes from being annoying to the most interesting character of the series.