TV Series Review: Paper Girls (Season One)

I am a fan of the graphic novel, which was the timey-whimy and less nostalgia-smitten Stranger Things with female protagonists, before Stranger Things existed. I awaited the Amazon adaptation with hope and trepidation.

Season One dropped this past weekend. What’s the verdict?

Titles: “Growing Pains,” “Weird Al is Dead,” “Blue Tongues Don’t Lie,” “It Was Never About the Corn,” “A New Period,” “Matinee,” “Some Kind of Burping Trash Hole,” and “It B Over.”

Cast and Crew

Directors: Mairzee Almas, Georgi Banks-Davies, Destiny Ekaragha, Karen Gaviola
Writers: Cliff Chiang, Stephany Folsom, Fola Goke-Pariola, K. Perkins, Brian K. Vaughan, Christopher Cantwell, Christopher C. Rogers, Lisa Albert, K.C. Perry, Kai Wu.

Cast
Camryn Jones as Tiffany Quilkin
Riley Lai Nelet as Erin Tieng
Sofia Rosinsky as Mac Coyle
Fina Strazza as KJ Brandman

Adina Porter as Prioress
Nate Corddry as Larry Radakowski
Ali Wong as Erin Tieng (2019)
Sekai Abenì as Tiffany Quilkin (1999)
Celeste Arias as Juniper Plimpton
Jason Mantzoukas as Grand Father
Daniel Rashid as Heck
Meg Thalken as Meemaw Radakowski
Rebecca Spence as Alice
Jessika Van as Missy Tieng (2019)
Maren Lord as Lauren
Cliff Chamberlain as Dylan Coyle (2019)
Delia Cunningham as KJ Brandman (1999)
Kellee Stewart as Dr. Carol Quilkin
Christopher Shyer as Ozzie Brandman
Marika Engelhardt as Jennifer Coyle
Quetta Carpenter as Nora Brandman
Jacqueline Williams as Donna Metcalf
Abigail Lue as Missy Tieng (1980s)
Andrew Eakle as Russ
Marcus Truschinski as Ronald Reagan
Jane Hu as Mei Lien Tieng
Joshua L. Green as Marcus
William Bennett as Naldo
Carter Shimp as Wally Becker
Charlie Babbo as Dylan Coyle (1988)

Premise

On November 1, 1988, a group of bicycle-riding 12-year-old paper girls find themselves involved in a bizarre science-fiction adventure that takes them to the future and the past and into a war between time-traveling factions.

Caution for some: although the focus is on our tween protagonists, the language has not been cleaned up for tween viewers.

High Points

The cast– particularly the teen girls– are excellent. They have to be. Although we the adventures develop, a good deal rests on the protagonists being interesting and interacting credibly. Yes, they’re still precocious and always ready with a quip, but these girls handle the shifts between SF adventures and adolescent realities.

Rest assured, however, that along with emotional dynamics, intergenerational conflicts, and first periods, we also get the Mecha battle, the Cathedral (“Why does every stupid thing have some kind of stupid name?”– Mac) and the (belated) appearances of the Quetzalcoatluses.

Other, more bizarre cosmic flourishes from the comic do not appear in Season One.

Low Points

I can accept any amount of SF time-travel strangeness, including the as-yet unrevealed (but addressed in the source) reason why the girls so easily escape detection by the Old Watch. It seems implausible that all four girls could pass so easily unnoticed by the folks at the party in “A New Period.”

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 It’s an adaptation, but it’s an adaptation that takes chances.

Acting: 6/6 I’ve addressed the main cast under “High Points.” The broader cast also turn in excellent performances, particularly Ali Wong as the adult Erin and Jason Mantzoukas as Grand Father. The first has been rethought from the source; the second remains the menacing oddball who plays like Jerry Garcia’s evil twin.

Story: 5/6 The changes to the story exist for various reasons. The show’s budget clearly limited the number of effects they could do, and the creators may have wanted to dial back the comic-book craziness until people had bought into the premise and characters. Some changes are the result of when each was made– the girls first travel to 2019 rather than 2016. Other changes reflect the nature of storytelling between the two media. Larry, for example, does not exist in the source material, but he serves important story purposes. The futuristic dialect spoken by some source characters becomes standard English, allowing for greater clarity. Finally, we have some changes to character– most notably, future Erin and her sister, and future Dylan– that explore dramatic potential missed in the original.

Production: 5/6 The show isn’t cheap, but it does not have the budget of most contemporary TV SF. It’s well-made and nicely filmed….

Effects: 5/6 ….The CGI is good, but not as good as what we see in, say the various Star Wars series.

Emotional Response: 6/6

Overall: 5/6 Paper Girls proves a solid adaptation that captures the essence of the comics and succeeds in being, like adolescence, entertaining, often thoughtful, unpredictable, and occasionally deranged.

(My wife gives it a 6/6. YMMV).

In total, Paper Girls (Season One) receives 35/42

Future Challenges

The source material features a bizarre, labyrinthine plot that ultimately proves perfectly coherent. In going off-book, I hope the series does not lose the tightness of the original. One major character has not appeared yet, and I am hoping they keep that character and her backstory.

The girls look more like the 15-year-olds they are then the 12-year-olds they are playing, but it works. How they will make their ages work as the show progresses (beyond our willingness to suspend disbelief) is another question.

2 replies on “TV Series Review: Paper Girls (Season One)”

  1. David Smith says:

    I liked this a lot until the last couple minutes of the last episode. They clearly are assuming they will get a second series, and so the ending was, um, unsatisfying.

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