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Paper Girls review: Time-travelling tweens series has plenty going on but a lot is insufficiently explained

PAPER GIRLS 3/5

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Paper Girls

Paper Girls

Paper Girls

FOUR 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls ride their bikes around the sleepy, pre-dawn suburbs of a fictional town called Stony Stream in Cleveland, Ohio.

One of them is permanently plugged into her Walkman tape player. Another keeps a couple of walkie-talkies in her bag. If those details don’t tip you off that we’re back in the 1980s, you either weren’t around to enjoy them or you haven’t been watching Stranger Things.

Comparisons between the Netflix blockbuster and Paper Girls (Amazon Prime, since Friday) are inevitable, but misplaced. It’s time travel, not monsters from another dimension, on the menu here and the emphasis is on the personal as opposed to the paranormal.

Paper Girls is more focused on character development than pyrotechnics. The special effects are largely limited to turning the sky pink and the futuristic technology on display is comparatively lo-fi. Mostly ray guns and naff costumes.

It’s shorter too; the eight episodes, three of which I’ve watched, average out at 45 minutes.

Walkman girl is Mac (Sofia Rosinsky), an outwardly tough, spiky kid from a troubled home. Walkie-talkie girl is Tiffany (Camryn Jones), who’s clever and tech-savvy and has her sights set on going to MIT.

Hockey-playing girl KJ (Fina Strazza) belongs to the rich family who own half the town, including its bank. Last but not least, and our “in” to the story, is Erin (Riley Lai Nelet), who’s picked the worst possible time to start her new paper round: the morning after Halloween, when the teenage dirtbags are still haunting the streets.

Each of the girls is a victim of prejudice of one sort or another, sometimes within their own group. Erin is Chinese and she and her mother, who can’t speak English, are made to feel unwelcome by their neighbours.

Tiffany is black. KJ is Jewish. Mac is poor and from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks.

The four, who barely know one another, are drawn together when they become caught in the crossfire of a confusingly filmed battle between time travellers from the future.

The black-clad good guys, the Standard Time Fighters (STF), are dedicated to altering those moments when time went wrong. The baddies, the white robe-wearing Old Watch, whose chief hunter is the menacing Prioress (Adina Porter), are dedicated to controlling time and keeping the power that goes with it to themselves.

Or something like that, anyway. Paper Girls is as fuzzy on the details of the larger conflict going on as it is on the mechanics of time travel.

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After a dying member of the STF thrusts a futuristic gizmo into Tiffany’s hand, the girls are catapulted from Stony Stream in 1988 to Stony Stream in 2019. But they don’t realise what’s happened until they take refuge in Erin’s house, where they come face to face with her adult self, played by Ali Wong.

Unlike what other time travel stories, notably Back to the Future, have told us, meeting yourself in the future apparently doesn’t cause the universe to implode. 

Young Erin nurses ambitions to be a US senator one day, and maybe even president. So she’s crushed to discover older Erin has let her dreams wither and die. She’s a humble paramedic who’s been living alone and lonely since her (their?) mother died.

In contrast, Mac searches the internet and learns that her delinquent brother Dylan (Cliff Chamberlain) cleaned up his act became a doctor with a clinic of his own. 

Incidentally, one of the peculiarities of the series is how little it makes of the girls’ first encounter with the wonders of 21st technology.

Mac splits off from the others to track Dylan down. Initially sceptical, he eventually accepts that Mac is who she says she is. There’s some bad news, though; she died when she was 16.

Meanwhile, Tiffany, KJ and the two Erins, who are being pursued by Prioress and her goons, find an ally in Larry (Nate Corddry), a member of the underground resistance working with the STF.

There’s plenty going in Paper Girls. A lot of it is insufficiently explained, however, and the pace flags after the lively opening. Mind you, you can’t go wrong with a big robot, and the gigantic one Larry unveils hopefully means things will be kicking up a gear or two.


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