To say we are in a golden age of comic book and graphic novel adaptations is an understatement. Prime Video’s Paper Girls is the latest entry that makes the genre proud. Filled with lots of fun, the show is, at its heart, a poignant meditation on girlhood and coming of age. Rather than falling into the regular pitfalls of stories revolving around young adults, Paper Girls tells a unique story about characters who are nothing less than captivating.
As an adaptation goes, Paper Girls is a strong tribute to the source material, the graphic novel series of the same name by Brian Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson, and Jared Fletcher. You might be wondering, how did four grown men so vividly capture the unhinged experience that is being a pre-teen girl? We might never know the answer. The show brilliantly translates the chaos of the source material for a new generation, while remaining a snapshot of a moment in time.
Each of the main characters brings something so special and unique to this story. Individually, the four leads are complete and compelling characters. Together, they are an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. Each of the leads fully capture the dual idealism and despair of this particular moment in a young girl’s life. The opportunities seem endless. So, too, do the depths of anguish. The way that each of the four paper girls bring these perspectives together is enthralling to watch.
Sofia Rosinsky’s Mac is particularly nuanced. This is not always the most likable character. She’s incredibly relatable though, and easy to sympathize with. Under her bravado, she’s a scared little girl who’s had to grow up far too soon. The show never excuses the blatant racism and homophobia of this character. Rather, it interrogates it and shows her to be a product of a deeply racist and homophobic society. She’s given plenty of opportunities to grow. She takes some of them.
Camryn Jones’ Tiffany is the brains of the operation. More than any of the characters, she represents intelligence, opportunity, and ambition. Hers is a fascinating character study on appearances, and how people are too often pre-judged based on appearances. Her natural leadership is inspiring, and exactly what the group needs. It’s clear that literally everyone would be better off if they just listened to her the first time, rather than having her repeat herself. It’s a relatable and frustrating struggle.
KJ (Fina Strazza) is the most ethereal of the group. Her quiet nature masks a power that’s comes through loud and clear. This character’s Judaism is a chaotic one. Judaism is woven into every aspect of this character, and it’s beautiful. Even when her relationship with her faith and community is fraught, the struggle is a worthy one. The way that this character’s sexuality is explored is beautiful. It’s thrilling to see her come into the woman she was always meant to be. Hers is the journey that is perhaps the most satisfying.
Finally, Erin (Riley Lai Nelet) is the one who holds the entire team together. This character’s emotional depth is the core of the entire story. From new girl to team leader, she’s so easy to love. Above all, her character illustrates the broader picture of the story, which is the exploration of grief and wonder that comes with growing up. Ali Wong only adds a greater depth to this character by portraying her in adulthood. Her humor and heroism grounds this character in a phenomenal way.
Paper Girls as a whole manages to be a heartbreaking examination of how we see our younger selves, and how we navigate the loss of innocence and dreams. It’s a meditation on what it means to grow up, and what we ultimately need to leave behind. Having the adult versions of these characters contrasted with their child counterparts is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. This duality only deepens each character individually.
Paper Girls also serves as a time capsule to an…intriguing era. It captures the use of racist and homophobic language. It’s frankly jarring the way in which viewers are shown how acceptable racist and homophobic slurs were only a short time ago. It’s sadly unsurprising, however. The way that music is incorporated into each episode just adds to the overall feel that while this show was made for 2022, it was firmly set in the past.
The comedy woven throughout this series is a phenomenon all on its own. Comedic heavyweights Ali Wong and Jason Mantzoukas deserve a lot of the credit for making the comedy work in the middle of the drama. Adina Porter also deserves credit for contributing to this dynamic, while maintaining the sinister nature of her villain. In lesser hands, this could very well have devolved into camp. However, it all comes together in a hilarious, heartfelt package.
The science fiction aspects sometimes takes away from the human elements being shown. It’s a testament to the strength of the story that even with time travel and dinosaurs, everything always comes back to the found family of these four paper girls thrown together by circumstance. The science fiction as a plot device works to bring each character to where they need to be.
Ultimately, Paper Girls is phenomenal entry into the coming of age genre. With it’s unique approach and heartfelt characters, it’s hard not to love. The characters’ imperfections only make them more loveable. There is much more of this story detailed in the graphic novels. Hopefully, this is only the beginning of seeing these characters and this story on-screen.
Paper Girls Season 1 is available to stream on Prime Video.