‘Paper Girls’: Time-traveling tweens repeat themselves in sluggish sci-fi series
In the future, the kids on the Prime Video show keep meeting their grown-up selves, a plot turn that becomes tedious.
Even though the Prime Video sci-fi adventure series “Paper Girls” is set in the Cleveland area, filming took place entirely in Illinois, from the Southport Corridor to Willow Springs, from Joliet to Prospect Heights, not to mention Thornton and Wheeling and Glenwood. It’s a handsomely mounted production, and there’s promise in the comic book-based story about four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls who get caught up in a time-traveling war, but over the course of eight episodes in Season One, the action often slows to a crawl and certain themes and cultural commentaries are hammered home again and again.
If there is a Season Two—and the cliffhanger ending certainly indicates that’s the hope and intention—“Paper Girls” has the potential to develop into a kind of less nostalgic “Stranger Things,” what with the 1980s time period in which the show kicks off and the band of kids who must perform heroic deeds to save the day. But they’re going to have to kick things into a faster and more compelling gear to convince us this is a story worth a long run.
The premiere episode of “Paper Girls” has the title characters waking in the still-dark, early-morning hours after Halloween of 1988, placing rubber bands around their respective bundles of the Cleveland Preserver and bicycling through the fictional suburb of Stony Stream.
An eight-episode series available Friday on Prime Video.
All four young actors deliver strong and natural work:
- Riley Lai Nelet is Erin Tieng, a shy new girl in town whose family hasn’t exactly been welcomed into the neighborhood.
- Camryn Jones is Tiffany Quilkin, a smart girl who is into tech and brings walkie-talkies along so the girls can stay in touch on their routes.
- Fina Strazza is KJ Brandman, a rich girl who loves field hockey and might not have the idyllic life everyone assumes is hers.
- Sofia Rosinsky is Mac Coyle, a tough kid with a chip on her shoulder who lives in a rundown home on the proverbial wrong side of the tracks.
By the time the sun comes up, the girls find themselves in the midst of a war between what appears to be a group of ragtag rebel warriors and a more formalized army of Stromtrooper-type soldiers wielding powerful laser weapons. Tiffany gains possession of an obligatory Highly Coveted and Mysterious Magical Object Thingee, and when the girls escape to Erin’s house, they find … the grown-up Erin (Ali Wong). They’ve been transported to the future! Cue “Hazy Shade of Winter” by the Bangles, and off we go.
Turns out there’s a time-traveling war going on between a group called the STF (Standard Time Fighters), which believes time travel can be used to course-correct moments in history when we lost our way, and The Old Watch, which is hell-bent on keeping things as they are. Oh, and memories can be erased, and it’s possible to meet your future self (as we’ve seen with Erin and older Erin). “It’s … a lot,” as one character acknowledges.
Much of “Paper Girls” focuses on the stories of the girls, who are each surprised and, in most cases, deeply disappointed by how their lives have turned out in the future. The exchanges between the 12-year-olds and their grown-up selves (and in some cases, grown-up siblings or other connections) become tedious, marked by occasional interruptions so we can have another battle sequence and some just-OK special effects. “Paper Girls” has its moments of authentic emotion and a few nifty twists, but it could have benefitted from tighter editing and a more cohesive storyline.