Amazon's 'Paper Girls' Is a Promising Adaptation of a Fantastic Comic Series
Another Brian K. Vaughan comic comes to life on the small screen.
If you've noticed that all anyone in TV seems to be doing right now is adapting classic and beloved comic series, you'd be right. Even aside from all the Marvel and DC superheroes and villains running around, we've gotten Amazon Prime's Invincible, FX's Y: The Last Man, and Netflix's adaptations of Sweet Tooth, The Umbrella Academy, The Old Guard, and an upcoming version of Neil Gaiman's Sandman. Comics, like film, are a visual medium, but that doesn't necessarily mean they translate well to the live-action format, and with any comic adaptation comes the question: Are they going to do it right? Will it look right? Feel right? Pace itself the right way? And crucially, how close will it adhere to the original format of the story?
A series like Paper Girls, originally written by Brian K. Vaughan with art from Cliff Chiang—now a live-action adaptation on Amazon Prime with all eight episodes available to stream—is a meticulously crafted, self-contained story that fits multiple time periods and plenty of emotional story arcs into just 30 issues that ran from 2015–2019, concluding with one of the most wrenching endings in recent memory. Amazon's version, while much slower paced, shows a lot of potential to measure up.
It's Hell Day, November 1, 1988, in the early pre-dawn hours after Halloween. Four paper girls, on their bike routes through a suburban Cleveland neighborhood, cross paths: Erin Tieng (Riley Lai Nelet), the new girl, on her first morning on the job; Tiffany Quilkin (Camryn Jones), a veteran paper girl; Mac Coyle (Sofia Rosinsky), the boyish troublemaker and first-ever female paper delivery rider; and KJ Brandman (Fina Strazza), a timid paper girl in a ponytail and windbreaker wielding a field hockey stick. While chasing off what they think is a gang of teen boys intent on ruining their morning, the four girls stumble right into the middle of a time-travel war accidentally bleeding into their present from way into the far future, one side battling for the existence of time travel and the malleability of the timeline, and the other fighting to eradicate time travel forever and thus preserve events along the timeline in their current state.
If that all sounds much too confusing, don't worry: The show takes its time, allowing each episode to establish where and when its main characters are, especially when other versions of themselves start popping up. The first season follows, roughly, the first two volumes of the comic, eventually introducing Erin's older self from the present, played by comedian Ali Wong, as well as a few others I won't reveal here. It's much slower paced than its source material, which will either be welcome or frustrating, depending on how fast you prefer stories like this to move.
And that's really the main thing about a show like this, built for the languidness of streaming but based on a comic that gets pretty weird, pretty quickly. The first season of Paper Girls feels like it's testing the waters, waiting for a hopefully positive response and a multiple-season commitment (and, given the sorts of special effects needed to go where the comic ultimately goes, a budget increase) before it starts going for the really outlandish stuff—though there are a few particularly exciting things that land this series right in the realm of the types of futuristic, pulpy sci-fi its creators were drawing from.
The charm of the show, and the thing that will keep fans bingeing, is in the young cast, all four of whom are fantastic in their roles and almost preternaturally faithful copies of their hand-drawn selves. The group blends together seamlessly, and quickly sets the groundwork for the comic's more personal, emotional storylines, though even these are expanded as the show uses the space provided to expand on pretty much everything it can, growing its own deeper mythology as it goes on.
With any live-action version of a beloved comic, there's always a choice to make about how exactly the show or the movie ought to copy its source material. Paper Girls is not a 1:1 adaptation, choosing to fall right in the middle of this spectrum: taking its time to get to the weird stuff, but with enough promise that the weird stuff, when it arrives, is going to get weird.