Throughout the episodes, the show is also careful to give its characters real dreams and trajectories; it provides them a certain edge. We get that sense from Mac in particular, the most aggressive of the bunch, who talks about her family’s financial struggles as if they were scars that made her tougher, when clearly they eat at her. It’s in her language too, as the show doesn’t shy from how an ’88 tough kid would talk, using certain toxic language like about her Jewish friend KJ (“My dad says you people own everything,” which Erin then tries to call out, and the other girls shrug off.) Mac’s arc is all the more effective when we see what her future in 2019 holds, and how it reflects upon her brother, who is no longer the punk-bully his sister knew in the ‘80s. This timeline is sensitively handled like a lot of the show’s reflective moments, and believable for its short-hand construction.
A great bond develops between the main ensemble too, making for genuinely heartwarming moments that have little to do with their shared bizarre situation. Real life becomes progressively 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 element of growing up, 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 that is given to making the story feel of-the-moment, “Paper Girls” does have a lacking problem with illustrating its villains, known as the Old Watch, who police time travel on behalf of the mega-wealthy and reportedly feed their captured to the dinosaurs. Dressed in drab white robes and using laser weapons that just look like larger versions of guns, the baddies are handled with a certain laziness that affects their menace, and therefore the overall stakes. As the lead hunter of this group, Adina Porter has some wicked fun with Prioress’ imposing presence, but sometimes all she has is a grin, or her character’s close-but-no-cigar timing to nabbing one of the girls.