Amazon’s ‘Paper Girls’ Season 1 Review: Excellent Characterization, Time Travel, and Something Gripping For Everyone

Paper Girls Season 1 Spoilers Ahead

Paper Girls Season 1 key art for Amazon Prime
©Prime Video

In every way a TV show can be gripping, Amazon Prime’s latest adventure, Paper Girls, takes the crown. Based on the best-selling comics written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Cliff Chiang, the series stands with a clear vision from the first episode to the last, bringing something utterly engaging and character-driven while holding down on its hefty science-fiction narrative. 

There’s plenty to appreciate about Paper Girls Season 1, but where it ultimately shines is its brilliant ability to balance character development and a narrative that demands to be the driving force. It’s seldom easy to deal with time travel because while there’s plenty of space to navigate through different storylines, if the mechanisms aren’t dealt with properly, then it goes off the rails, taking the characters dangling by a string wrapped around their ankles. The show is no Back to the Future, forbidding the girls from having encounters with their older selves or whatever the Marvel Cinematic Universe attempted through EndgameHere, all variations of the girls can meet each other, or so it seems for now. And that alone brings to our screens the thematic hurdles of growing pains, drawing our attention straight towards what on earth would happen if 12-year-old me saw 31-year-old me? 

Erin Tieng, Mac Coyle, Tiffany Quilkin, and KJ Brandman in Paper Girls Season 1
©Prime Video

Life happens, and Paper Girls Season 1 brings this concept centerfold with its characters encountering their older selves, only to find that nothing’s as they thought it’d be. And nothing ever truly is. These encounters, or lack thereof for Mac, make the series a riveting conundrum because it allows human connections to be at the forefront. In this case, the links are with ourselves and the older versions of our unlikely new friends. The series starts with an encounter with older Erin, played by Ali Wong, and ends with Sekai Abenì as adult Tiffany. We also meet an adult KJ through Delia Cunningham, but given the tragic outcome of Mac’s short-lived life, the secret of her incoming death haunts the character through her experience. 

There’s something intriguing about a series introducing a future character’s death and how it shapes the lives of those who know her, but will they stick with it and let it happen? I’m hoping not. And whether it does or does not in the comics, TV can change such things. Additionally, if these events have already happened while the girls exist in other timelines, does that mean that time is a mere construct and they can live in multiple realities? Perhaps the version of Mac that dies remains as so, but the one who can time-travel stays in alternate realities, making a new life for her with the paper girls who become family.

Further, though adult Tiffany seems to be fine with her expulsion from MIT and the detail that she’s enjoying her life far more than she ever did as a child, the revelation at the end tells us that there’s far more she’s yet to accomplish. But, at the very least, we can be certain that it’s her choice that leads her on this path as opposed to the workings of her mother. Or is it her destiny? The series doesn’t explore the concept of fate vs. free will too much yet, but a lot can ensue if or when we get to that place as the story progresses. How much can be changed by what we know, and how much is truly written in the stars? Still, Tiffany’s arc individually and with her adult self is one of the undeniable highlights of the season, allowing us to see what it’s like to have your dreams in your hand and push towards something else because of where life takes you.

Erin’s story also makes for a riveting, more relatable arc for those of us with Immigrant parents who never really learned the language. Let no one ever tell you that English is an easy language to learn because it’s tough for people when they’re mocked or ridiculed for their accents. (I watched this happen with my parents tirelessly!) Thus, Erin feeling the tremendous weight of responsibility for her mother makes sense and also breaks hearts as we still don’t know who’s looking out for her in 88. It’s also incredibly gratifying to see the development she experiences throughout the course of the series as the events thicken her skin.

Finally, how the series brings KJ’s sexuality to the surface is one of the series’ most gorgeous details. The metaphor of films and meeting her future girlfriend as opposed to her future self allows the character a chance to find pieces of herself through outside voices as opposed to her own. It allows her to look in from the outside, paying close attention to the things and people she’s drawn to, diving into the idea that her joy is worth the fight she’ll endure. Part of her story relies on the understanding that it’s okay to want whatever she does, even if it doesn’t align with what others want for her. And the vision her discoveries will lead to is something I’m hoping we explore more of through her future career as a filmmaker.

Still from Paper Girls. Season 1 Episode 8
©Prime Video

Paper Girls Season 1 ultimately relies heavily on connections and what it means to choose someone else. Why does time travel as a theme often go against the balance of the universe? Because it forces people to make choices based on what’s coming or what’s happened. And with these four girls, it depends on who they want to be, the people they adore, and the wrongs they want to make right. Tapping into what it means to become the best version of ourselves, Paper Girls is taking a chaotic, incredibly organic route to that destination. 

The show isn’t without faults. There are more questions than answers at this moment, but it’s still very much a show that’s doing something innovative with tropes that aren’t even remotely new. It’s spreading its neon cotton candy skies over friendships, arguments, and the greater good of a small town and the people in it. It doesn’t ask much out of its audience; instead, it quickly draws you in, bringing in the right amount of everything to all the relatable spaces it tries to fill.

Superbly and thoughtfully constructed, Paper Girls is unlike anything else that’s airing right now. The characters are complex, the performers are stunning, and the narrative can be of service to everybody. 

Paper Girls Season 1 is now streaming on Amazon Prime.


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