Over the past few years, there have been enough comic book adaptations for audiences to understand that the medium can either work tremendously well when made into a live-action TV series or turn into a failure of epic proportions. From the incredible Deadly Class, the long-running The Walking Dead, and the utter disgrace that was Jupiter’s Legacy, comic book TV adaptations come in all shapes and sizes. In most cases, not even being extremely faithful to the source material proves to be a guaranteed winning formula making it easy to accept when certain changes are made to make the show work better through a different medium. But in other cases, such as with Prime Video’s Paper Girls, some of the charm, scope, and even ambition that the original comic series displayed, which to a point were at the very heart of it, seems to have been lost along the way making the show worse for it.
Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang‘s Paper Girls, published by Image Comics, began its run on October 7, 2015, and ended on July 31, 2019 with its 30th issue. It won the Eisner for Best New Series in 2016 with its creative team winning multiple awards throughout its run. For several years it remained as one of the best-regarded series being published thus making a TV adaptation being greenlit in 2020 a not-so-surprising validation of the broader appeal of the source material.
As for the show, when the story begins, much like in the comic series, four Paper Girls cross paths on November 1st, 1988, Hell Day. They are soon brought into a timestream conflict between The Old Watch (similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universes’ Time Variance Authority) and the STF Underground. Following a random encounter with two STF time-travelers, they find themselves in 2019 where they learn a bit more about what is really at stake. Initially wanting no part in the war, wishing only to get back home to their 1988’s Stony Stream, they soon realize where their loyalty should reside as new friends, and older versions of themselves find themselves targeted by the Old Watch with the four girls needing to play a big part in the fight in order for the war not to be lost.
The heart of the series is, obviously, in its four leads: Erin, Mac, Tiffany, and KJ (played by Riley Lai Nelet, Sofia Rosinsky, Camryn Jones, and Fina Strazza). It is through their eyes that the story beings to unfold, and it is their fears and expectations that move the story along. But albeit the portrayal of all four girls is on point with the source material, the way audiences are expected to get to know them and, from there, connect with their personal journeys is somewhat sabotaged by the pacing in which the story is being told.
For context, the first episode, Growing Pains, manages to fit the entirety of the first arc of the comics. Such a breakneck pace doesn’t leave enough room for audiences to breathe. Events just happen without being fully explored, both in their meaning and in the way the girls are experiencing them. Several whoa moments from the comic series are left out making the story feel flatter and more generic than the source material deserved it to be treated. The pace throughout the rest of the season is staggering, to a fault. Some moments are borderline boring and should probably have been a bit more dynamic and fast-paced. Had the show been able to maintain a constant rhythm the entire season, taking a bit more time with the setup but not letting go once all the plot pieces were set in place, the benefits would likely be enormous.
The slow pace is also made worse by the choice to have the girls time travel to relatively similar periods. Unlike the comics, where there they either go to or reference the year 20000 and 11706 BCE, in the show we see them go from 1988 to 2019, to 1999, and eventually to somewhere in the late 50s or 60s. This dramatically reduces the impact of the possibilities presented to the girls through time travel and just how big of a scope the story is missing out on. We still get the mech robots, the pterodactyls, and the giant steampunk blimp, but all that craziness seems more like an exception rather than the norm that Paper Girls deserved.
What still manages to be present in the show, albeit in a not very focused way, is how it manages to capture both sides of expectation management towards the future. And the past. Paper Girls is all about how the envisioned future always seems to find a way not to present itself, and just how much that sometimes has to deal with the inability people have to move and work towards it. But that can be okay, sometimes life happens and people just have to manage to do the best they can with the cards they are dealt with. Other times, we find the best versions of ourselves in unexpected places, even if somehow we should have really seen it coming a mile away. The perfect future isn’t always the right one, and the possibilities ahead are always more important than the ones left behind. And in that regard, Paper Girls might still also have the time to make better choices in its own future.
All in all, Prime Video’s Paper Girls is overall a letdown when regarding expectations that a fan from the comic series would naturally have ahead of the show. But even with all its troubles in terms of pacing, the diminished scope that takes away from the epicness of the plot, and even some issues when it comes to sound mixing, shot composition, and editing, this might not be it for the show. Both the season finale and the main cast, which will continue to grow and perhaps lift the entire show to new heights, could still help turn things around in season two, which has already been greenlit. That display of confidence ahead of the series premiere is something not to be taken lightly, and the fact that there is still much to improve should be an opportunity to bring the series one step closer to the unforgettable nature of the source material.
Paper Girls season one is now streaming, in its entirety, only on Amazon Prime Video.