Throughout the episodes, the show is also careful to give its characters real dreams and trajectories; it gives them a certain edge. We get that sense especially from Mac, the most aggressive of the bunch, who talks about her family’s financial struggles as if they were scars that made her tougher when they’re clearly eating at her. It’s in her language, too, as the show isn’t afraid of how an ’88 cool kid would talk and use some decidedly toxic language like her Jewish friend KJ (“My dad says you own everything,” as Erin then tries to call out and the other girls shrug.) Mac’s arc is all the more effective when we see what her future holds in 2019 and how it reflects her brother who is no longer the punk- bully his sister knew in the 80s. This timeline is sensitively handled like many of the show’s reflective moments and believable for its brief construction.
A great bond also develops between the main ensemble, making for genuinely heartwarming moments that have little to do with their shared bizarre predicament. Real life gradually becomes alien to them and they have to navigate their own homes for supplies and money while avoiding being recognized. But the series can be poignant about the coming-of-age element, as with an endearing, long sequence in which the girls work together to steal tampons from a convenience store and then try to understand the printed instructions on how to use them.
For all the attention given to making the story feel right now, “Paper Girls” has a lack of problem illustrating its villains, known as The Old Watch, as time-traveling cops on behalf of the mega-wealthy and allegedly feed their captives to the dinosaurs. Dressed in drab white robes and using laser weapons that just look like bigger versions of guns, the bad guys are handled with a certain laziness that affects their menace and thus the overall effort. As the lead hunter in this group, Adina Porter has fun with the Prioress’ imposing presence, but sometimes all she’s got is a laugh, or her character’s close-but-no-cigar timing to snitch on one of the girls.