Yes, ‘Paper Girls’ Has Kids on Bikes in the Eighties — But It’s No ‘Stranger Things’ Rip-Off

So let’s get this out of the way: Even though the Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things debuted on Netflix in 2016, the debut of the Image comic Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang occurred in 2015. Neither group is the first to attempt Amblincore; this is a term I coined to describe the recent onslaught of media that pays homage to the groundbreaking work of two guys named Ste(ph/v)en, who revolutionized the film industry in the 1980s.

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Paper Girls does not take place in the 1980s as some have claimed; the story opens in 1988. Our young heroes are true children of the 1980s; in one scene, Erin (Riley Lai Nelet), an aspiring United States senator, dreams that she is debating Ronald Reagan in 1984. Mac (Sofia Rosinsky) holds her brother’s worn-out Walkman and carefully compiled mixtape in the highest regard (shout out to Danzig).

Paper Girls Has Kids On Bike In the 80s

However, by the end of the pilot, they have been swept up in a conflict of the future and dumped into 2019 like Dorothy. It’s not a secret that the year 1988 will not be visited upon the show again until much later in the first season.

Prime Video‘s Paper Girls is based on a comic book of the same name, and the show’s opening scene features a group of preteen girls riding bikes around unsupervised. This is an ideal setting for the girls to come across something strange and decide to investigate it on their own without involving any adults.

When you’re done with this season, you’ll feel like you’re a part of a story that’s much bigger than the tiny town at its center. It’s true that the Technicolor clouds are a sight to behold and that they portend a dark invasion. And that’s about where any comparisons to Netflix’s massive success stop being valid.

Yes, ‘Paper Girls’ Has Kids on Bikes in the Eighties — But It’s No ‘Stranger Things’ Rip-Off
Yes, ‘Paper Girls’ Has Kids on Bikes in the Eighties — But It’s No ‘Stranger Things’ Rip-Off

In a small suburb of Cleveland, paper girls Erin (the focus), Mac (the toughness), Tiffany (the nerdiness), and KJ (the repressed rich kid) form an uneasy alliance on their delivery routes. We meet them in the early hours of November 1st, the day after Halloween.

New Order’s “Age of Consent” plays as the adolescent miscreants of Stony Stream, Ohio, continue to cause mischief in the streets. In an act of paper-girl solidarity, they pursue their aggressor, only to find themselves in the middle of a “time war” being fought between ideologically opposed factions in the distant future; a power outage and a mysterious fuchsia glow in the sky bring to mind a nuclear standoff reminiscent of the Cold War. Within minutes, however, they are disoriented, traumatized, and compelled to band together after stumbling out of a strange vehicle into the year 2019.

Under the usual rules of these stories, the kids might have been fine on their own between Erin’s common sense, Mac’s street smarts, Tiff’s technological savvy, and KJ’s pragmatism. However, there is a welcome insistence on trying to find an adult to help them out in each new situation. The girl’s mother is not present, so Erin, now in her forties, plays the role of the parent in this story.

From the first moment of her anxiety attack mindfuck as “Old” Erin, which is the reaction any normal person would have if their 12-year-old self suddenly appeared to criticize their life choices, Ali Wong is a revelation as the character. Adult Erin, played by Wong, displays a weary resignation that pays dividends throughout the season. She and her younger self clash over how to handle their situation, and their arguments deteriorate into heated debates over the course of their lives.

This is where Paper Girls really shines: How would you respond if you were confronted with the prospect of having to justify your current situation to your wide-eyed 12-year-old self? If your future self wasn’t happy with your current situation, what advice would you give them?

Many stories about traveling through time preach about the dangers of changing the past or the future, citing paradoxes like the grandfather paradox and the butterfly effect. While the story makes passing reference to these ideas and conventions, it does not go into detail about the possible complications that could arise if a person’s adult self traveled back in time to meet their 12-year-old self.

All four of the paper girls learn their respective futures, and each of them finds something that doesn’t add up. You can start to form some fairly mature ideals of the kind of person you want to be by the time you’re twelve, but you’re still young enough that, if you’re lucky, you don’t yet realize how inflexibly and inevitably life will stand in the way of your plans and ambitions.

The young actors do a good job of coming across as both childlike and mature as they are forced to face their own futures; Rosinsky’s Mac is capital-T Tough but lets the cracks show, and Strazza keeps KJ’s cards close to her chest at first but then incorporates a potent cocktail of trauma and denial into her later work.

The show has a lot of heart, and the setting is perfect for delving into the anxiety that comes with the transition from childhood to adulthood.

There has never been a Stranger Things scene like the one where Mac, Tiff, KJ, and Erin try to decipher a tampon box leaflet, no matter how many times the kids from Hawkins blast Kate Bush and splay their hands at each other. If the paper girls can pull through this rough patch, it will have been worth it.

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