So recently, having finished off The Sandman, and not really being into House of the Dragon yet, my wife and I watched the show Paper Girls on Amazon prime, all 8 episodes over the course of a couple of weeks (which is a pretty fast binge for us):
As per the usual rules of subjecting my wife to new shows, I just jumped right in without telling her anything about it. Although in this case that was mainly because I didn’t know anything about it, other than two important facts:
Wife: “What’s this?”
Me: “This is Paper Girls.”
Wife: “What’s it about?”
Me: “I’m not sure. But it involves time travel somehow and the guys who made Halt and Catch Fire are involved.”
Wife: “Oh. Okay.”*
And so we watched the show for a while. It soon became evident that the reason it was called Paper Girls is because (drum roll) the main characters are four twelve-year-old girls who deliver newspapers in the olden days of 1988, when newspapers were still a thing. The age of the protagonists caused my wife to have some concerns about their youth and inexperience:
Wife: “Is this a teenybopper show? Because I don’t like teenybopper shows.”
Me: “They’re not teenyboppers. Teenyboppers are at the mall chewing gum.”
Wife: “They might be at the mall if they weren’t delivering papers.”
And, a little later:
Wife: “I hope this isn’t an entire show about kids trying to deliver the paper.”
As it turns out—not-really-a-spoiler alert!—the girls’ paper-delivery endeavors quickly get interrupted, first by a few jerky local high-school boys, and, subsequently, by getting caught in a time warp, unwittingly dragged into a battle between warring factions of time travelers, and, ultimately, getting dumped in 2019 with no way to get back home to 1988**. When this change happens, it happens very fast, in the form of a sky that’s suddenly purple and stormy:
Me: “Well that was a pretty rapid tonal shift.”
Once the Paper Girls rollercoaster hunched itself over that first hill, it spent the rest of the episode careering around curves and loops and barrel-rolls with breakneck speed. My wife was definitely paying attention at this point.
Me: “Will you watch another episode of this?”
Was she hooked on Paper Girls? No, or so she said. But was it the show she asked to watch at the end of the day when it was time for television? Yes, yes it was.
Wife: “I was worried this was going to be a teenybopper show, but it’s got really good character development.”
It did have good character development (in particular with respect to the characters Mac and KJ, who are on the left and right, respectively, in the picture above). It didn’t hurt, either, that Paper Girls had an excellent soundtrack, mostly of 80s hits, of course. Such hefty use of 80s music didn’t cut any ice with my wife when Stranger Things did it, but there’s a lot less squelching going on in Paper Girls. (Plus Paper Girls didn’t meddle with the remix.) Seriously, if they ever released a soundtrack album of all the songs on Paper Girls, I would buy it in a heartbeat. And so would these guys, apparently:
It’s not just 80s songs, though. I was inordinately pleased to hear one of my favorite tracks, Space Song, by Beach House, over the end credits of one of the middle episodes. This song really was the perfect coda for that particular episode, although I can’t tell you why, exactly, because spoilers (not that there aren’t going to be spoilers below, but still). I’m not the only one who thought Space Song was one of the best songs in the entire series, either.
In addition to great songs and character development it also had a satisfactory amount of science fiction and time travel hijinx. But before we get into that, I need to ask our friend River Song to issue a warning to those who have not seen the whole show:
All right, now then, where were we? Or, given the nature of the show, should I say when were we? Oh right: We were at the point when there was a character who, upon fiddling with a futuristic device, accidentally triggered some manner of heads-up display, with code scrolling by on the screen. So of course I had to pause it there to inspect said code.
Me: “Well if the people making this show paid any attention at all to what this code is doing, it’s making a connection to something.” (points at “xmlhttp = new XMLHttpRequest();”)
I don’t think they actually did pay any attention to the code, which as per usual was mostly gibberish, but the device did turn out to be transmitting a signal, which was not much of a narrative surprise. What was a surprise was when the response to the signal eventually led them to a farm run by a schlub with a giant robot in his grain silo (⬅️ not some kind of penis euphemism).
Me (gleefully): “He has a mech!”
Wife: “What’s a mech?”
Me: “It’s a giant robot with a pilot.”
Wife: “Like Iron Man?”
Me: “Iron Man isn’t a mech. Iron Man is a suit of armor.”
Wife: “Why is Iron Man a suit of armor?”
Me: “Because it’s only man-sized. Mechs are huge.”
Wife: “But Iron Man is huge, isn’t he? Tony Stark sits in one of its eyes?”
Me: “I think you’re thinking of Pacific Rim. Here, let me show you—”
Wife: “No that’s fine.”
A little while later my wife went into the kitchen for tea or something, and I took the opportunity to call up, on YouTube, not Pacific Rim, but rather, the scene at the end of District 9 in which reformed jerkass Wikus takes on the mercs while wearing a mech. Which, yeah, his mech isn’t HUGE huge, but it’s definitely not a suit. I mean, just look at it.
Wife (wandering back in during the mech fight): “Uh, what is this … ?”
Me: “Oh I decided I wanted to see the mech fight from District 9.”
Wife (peers at screen with narrowed eyes for a few seconds)
Me: “Did you want to finish Paper Girls?”
At some point over the course of Paper Girls, we learn that the way they achieve time travel is by exploiting “folds” in time. They are very specific about this.
Me: “A fold in time ― not a wrinkle.”***
Wife: “I was thinking that too!”
Then there’s the part where, despite being involved in a running battle between time-traveling terrorists/freedom fighters and time-traveling forces of order/oppression, Our Heroes are still 12-year-old girls, and one of them has, let’s say, an unexpected need for a product she has never used before, and which they are forced to steal from a drug store in what is, to them, the future, since they are lacking in the money department and stuff.
Wife: “This is so accurate.”
Me: “I thought they explained this stuff to the girls in school. I remember they had a thing in the auditorium that none of the boys were invited to.”
Wife: “They sort of tell you about it but they don’t give you any details. They certainly don’t tell you how to use a tampon.”
Paper Girls was full of nice little character moments like that, including my favorite line of the entire show, which was when KJ asks, of a character her future self knows well, “When did you know you liked … movies?”**** It’s because of things like this that my wife only fell asleep once while we were watching it, and given how it ends, we were both looking forward to Season 2. Unfortunately …
Me (showing news to wife): “Bastards!”
Wife: “They should shop it around in Europe. There was probably too much character stuff and not enough stuff blowing up for Americans.”
So I guess now I’ll have to pick up the graphic novel if I want to see the rest of the story. Let’s say it again: Bastards!
* Have I mentioned that Halt and Catch Fire was awesome? Because Halt and Catch Fire was awesome.
** As one does.
*** This is a link for the book version of A Wrinkle in Time. The less said about the movie version, the better.
**** She’s not really talking about movies.