August 27, 2022

Streamin' Meemies: Paper Girls, Season 1--"We're coming to get our shit back"


Paper Girls is an Eisner Award-winning and Hugo-nominated comic, now in its first season of adaptation on Amazon Prime.  I wanted to spotlight it here because it seems to have flown a little bit under the radar, and I think it's well worth watching. 

This is the story of four pre-teen paper carriers who are hurled from their comfortable (more or less) lives in 1988 into the middle of a time war. The actual comic is a bright pink and purple with gonzo images such as these:

The series has (so far, at least) jettisoned most of the comic's convoluted batshit craziness in favor of a straightforward time travel story, if a time travel story can ever be said to be straightforward. In the first season, our titular pre-teen characters--Mac, Tiffany, Erin and KJ--jump from 1988 to 2019 and back to 1999, and in the final episode Erin and Tiffany are dropped into what looks like 1950's land. Since Tiffany is Black and Erin is Chinese (although the fact that she has the name "Erin" instead of a Chinese name definitely shows this comic was originally written by a white guy), this is not a good place for either of them to be. And we still don't know where, or rather when, Mac and KJ ended up.....

What most impressed me about the first season was the time spent with the characters. In addition to the four core crew, we see older versions of three of them--Erin, Tiffany and KJ--and the show takes the time to explore the differences between the younger and the older and what happened to each of them during the gap. The individual episodes are structured with the action and set pieces at the beginnings and ends, with the middles left for the character-heavy scenes. One scene in particular proved this series is helmed by a female showrunner --(or was--I guess she left, as I found out when I searched for her name. Still, her influence is obvious): Erin is the first of the four to get her period. Mac steals some tampons  for her, and the four spend a considerable amount of time staring at the tampons, reading the instructions on the box, and trying to figure out how they are supposed to work. Another outstanding scene is from Fina Strazza's KJ, who sees the older version of herself kissing her girlfriend. The camera lingers on Strazza's face for several long silent moments, with the young girl's eyes rolling and her face twitching, as she faces the fact that yes, she is gay. It's a tour de force. 

But all the young actors suit their characters perfectly. They are very good, but I think Sofia Rosinsky's Mac is a standout. Mac also has the most tragic storyline, since she discovers that in the main timeline, she is due to die from cancer in only four years. To help her friends, she has to leave behind her older physician brother in 2019 and the possibility of a cure or a longer lifespan (since cancer treatment has improved in the intervening three decades) to return to her proper time. Mac is snarky, sarcastic, and sometimes not a nice person at all, even before she discovered her fate. But she's fascinating to watch. 

Due to the fact that the timejumping is relatively restrained and an attempt has been made to keep the factions and different time periods as understandable as possible, it's fairly easy to follow what is going on. This version of time travel does not seem to involve a multiverse or branching timelines. In fact, the Grandfather character who is heading up one of the factions--the bad one--known as the Old Watch explains it as (and this is so 80's) a mixtape that time travellers keep re-recording over until it frays and the universe disintegrates. Presumably this is why one of the supporting characters, poor hapless Larry, dies twice, once in 2019 and once in 1999. Because of our four protagonists jumping twenty years back, the later version of Larry who died was overwritten. 

The special effects are similarly restrained--the CGI does not take over here. I'm sure that's because this show doesn't have the budget of a Sandman or House of the Dragon. There is one big Transformers-style mecha fight, and the pteranodons from the comics are present (indeed, one of them is what gets poor hapless Larry the second time). But this definitely works to the story's advantage, giving it a more realistic feel and grounding it in its characters instead of overwhelming effects. 

Altogether, this show was a very pleasant surprise, and it's not necessary to have read the comics in order to follow it. I really hope it gets a second season. 



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