The paper-waving tale of Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang is about many other things, including conflict between who we want to be and who we wind up being, generational division and trauma, as well as a time war. What struck me was that a lot of its uniformly brilliant cast play characters who learn of their own ends long before it comes, leaving them to confront head-on the one thing nobody of us can escape: dying.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for the first season of Paper Girls.]
It's all you can see in Mac Coyle's compelling narrative, played by Sofia Rosinsky, who has to deal with some of the show's darker themes. Shes the group's brash, loud, swearing kid who's been dealt with a truly gritty hand, leaving all her barbs feeling fragile, concealing a lot of damage she's not yet old enough to endure. It's devastating and unfair. And the show does not pretend to be different.
Dylan, his older brother, greets Mac in 2019 like he has seen a ghost (which I guess he has). He quickly becomes the guardian, eager to not only protect Mac, but also make up for their terrible childhood.
If you watch him tear up over this second chance with his dead sister, you sense a sense of guilt and a debt to be paid for the life he got to live that she did not.
Mac struggles to disclose her struggles to him and the other girls, and she mostly tries to keep them to herself. Other characters must deal with death, including poor Larry, who bites the dust twice, its the kids who remain the focus.
Riley Lai Nelet describes the loneliness of being not just the new girl but a stranger to the other paper girls for the past month, potentially locking her in her fate.
Tiff, too, knows that she has the responsibility to manage herself, even if it isnt with her own death. In a moment in episode four delivered so poignantly by Camryn Jones, she's trying to stand her ground among adults, desperate to grow up and take charge of her life while also having to overcome her inexperience.
Fina Strazza is the first person Mac meets and offers her gentle touch of understanding, thereby reducing the group's attachment to their bleak futures. She finally helps Mac share the news with the others, an act that strengthens the group's bond.
There is no evidence that Paper Girls is the only show to put children in danger in recent years. Stranger Things and The Wilds have put adolescents in significant danger, although they are often tragic. They are big moments, built up to with fanfare (and perhaps too much signposting) that reward their sacrifices or their loss. There is no resolution, only an acknowledgement of their tragic fate.
Paper Girls has a lot of potential for kids, but its not a one-off story. As an adult, I can attest that the film is extremely enjoyable for both adults and youngsters.
Paper Girls is one of the few stories that connects with what it is like for a youngster. We instinct, perhaps, are to shield children from these harsh realities. Regardless, we prefer it or not, kids must face all kinds of problems that we wish were reserved for adulthood.
Season 1 of Paper Girls is now available on Amazon Prime Video.