The runaway success of Netflix’s Stranger Things won’t have gone unnoticed by its rivals in the streaming space, and now Amazon Prime Video has released something in a very similar vein, involving 80s kids dealing with the supernatural.
But while that may sound like a flimsy imitation, Paper Girls — based on the comic of the same name from Brian K Vaughan and Cliff Chiang — has impressed the critics with its first season, earning itself an 87% fresh rating (opens in new tab) on Rotten Tomatoes over the course of its inaugural eight-episode run.
“It has great Stranger Things energy (or should that be The Goonies and Stand By Me meta-energy?) but everything feels fresh,” The Guardian (opens in new tab) says in its four-star review. “They band together first in the face of men’s aggression, and this awareness of the common dangers that connect them, even when they differ superficially and challenge each other, gives the whole thing an unusually firm grounding.”
While the show tells a time traveling science fiction story, it’s often as a backdrop to explore the girls’ characters more deeply, as Keith Phipps at TV Guide (opens in new tab) notes.
“The mind-bending time contortions make it grabby,” he writes. “The characters’ inner lives give it heart. But it’s the combination of the two — and the willingness to pause to focus on the latter — that makes Paper Girls stand out.”
This is echoed by Dan Fienberg at Hollywood Reporter (opens in new tab): “Although fantastical elements give Paper Girls its hook, what’s actually fantastic about the eight-episode series is its unexpectedly lovely depiction of preteen female friendship.”
Nick Allen from RogerEbert.com (opens in new tab) agrees. “A surprising time travel coming-of-age story that largely does away with nostalgic needle drops and sights, but does make you care about each of the 12-year-old girls and their lives,” he writes.
It apparently works, in large part because of the performances of the main stars, described by USA Today (opens in new tab) as “wonderful talents performing thoughtful scripts.”
Praise isn’t universal, however, and there are five ‘rotten’ reviews in the barrel of ‘fresh’ ones — although these are more in the middling range than actively bad.
“The comics were a dizzying punk time war across the broad spectrum of the cosmos, featuring multiple versions of our heroes,” laments Clint Worthington at Consequence TV (opens in new tab). “But this show only has the budget for a couple of different timelines, only a few decades apart, and it struggles to fill that time.”
Meanwhile, Richard Roeper at the Chicago Sun Times (opens in new tab) believes it has potential to become “a kind of less nostalgic Stranger Things”, but “they’re going to have to kick things into a faster and more compelling gear to convince us this is a story worth a long run.”
The cliffhanger ending suggests that Amazon is planning for that long run with multiple series, which is a brave move in a year when Netflix cancellations are into double figures already. But the general consensus is that it does enough to justify the plan, and hopefully we’ll see it bloom into the show that can scratch the sci-fi itch when Stranger Things season 5 brings the saga to a close.
So if you enjoyed the retro sci-fi of Stranger Things, it looks like Paper Girls could be a must-watch on Amazon Prime Video.