Paper Girls Was Doomed By an Unfaithful Adaptation

Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s Paper Girls remains a favorite among science fiction comic fans, and while Amazon’s TV adaptation was strong in many aspects, it’s clear that a lot of what made the source material so popular was missing. With the success of a show like Netflix’s Stranger Things, which was able to capitalize on the ’80s nostalgia running rampant in today’s film and TV landscape, Paper Girls seemed like the perfect project for a studio to get invested in.

Stranger Things benefited from the luxury of not being anchored to any source material; therefore, no expectations existed for that show as opposed to Paper Girls. While it’s possible that the strong source material may have actually worked against Amazon’s Paper Girls adaptation to some extent, following it a little more closely would have surely resulted in a more engaging experience for audiences. Something about the TV show failed to yield the viewership required to grant the series a second season. Despite a collection of factors likely aiding in the show’s untimely end, one of the primary reasons for Paper Girls’ cancelation can be attributed to the fact that the show went off the beaten path provided by the comics.

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Amazon Prime’s Paper Girls Ignored the Perfect TV Series Blueprint Provided By the Comics

Paper Girls Riding Their Bikes from the Comic Book Series

Although it was likely not the case, all six arcs of the Paper Girls comic book seemed intentionally designed as perfect blueprints for six seasons of television. With a near-perfect balance of layered character development and sprawling sci-fi set pieces, Paper Girls offered a story that, if given the proper time to breathe, could have been translated into one of the more engrossing television series in recent memory. Several exciting reveals throughout the story seemed tailor-made for the TV medium. Whether it be Mac’s ultimate fate, the meaning of the apple Erin saw in her dreams or the identity of the woman and her newborn that the heroes meet in the distant past, these moments and more like them are the foundation for what results in memorable TV.

It was clear by the second episode, however, that the series was simply planning to rearrange aspects of the comic to fit a less demanding narrative. It seemed that Amazon was more interested in revolving the small screen’s version of Paper Girls around the more visually recognizable elements from the comics as opposed to spending the time to build a narrative the way Vaughan did. While the cast was almost perfect, with the stand-out being Ali Wong as Adult Erin, their performances were largely bogged down by a plot that spent much of its runtime spinning its tires. Even when the series did faithfully adapt several of the comics’ smaller moments, the choices made as the season rolled on proved that the show would be a very different experience than what readers were hoping for.

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Paper Girls’ Adaptation Took Too Many Liberties With Its Source Material

Giant Robot in Amazon's Live Action Paper Girls Adaptation

While the budget required for a fully realized sci-fi/fantasy series could have very well been a primary factor in all the changes made to Paper Girls‘ plot, extended pit stops in the story only served to slow the pacing of the show. Mac, a character who learns she’s dead in the future that she and her fellow paper girls end up in, must find a way to come to terms with her unfortunate fate. Through her relationship with eventual girlfriend KJ and a late-stage meeting with the woman who invented time travel, Qanta Braunstein, Mac’s character is able to reach an emotionally satisfying peak before the story’s endgame. While the TV show’s approach to Mac’s story wasn’t afforded an opportunity to reach a similar peak, the time spent exploring the relationship between Mac and her brother Dylan already began to hinder her trajectory by providing unnecessary backstory instead of moving her arc forward.

Other comic book elements remixed by Amazon’s adaptation proved misguided as well. For example, Paper Girls featured the “giant robot” trope to extremely entertaining effect. First being teased as the cliffhanger for the third arc in the final panel of issue #15, these robots were primarily used as instruments of war between the “Old-Timers” and the “Teenagers” — two time-traveling factions that kick-started the entire story. Eventually, Tiffany, a character who depended on video games as a form of escapism, was able to use her experience with a joystick to pilot one of these robots through time and save her friends in the process.

It came as a bit of a disappointment, then, when the Paper Girls adaptation introduced one of these giant robots as early as the third episode. In the TV show, the robot was introduced while being stored at a less-than-interesting rural farm by a character created for the show named Larry. This change could be seen as a somewhat slapdash attempt to inject a few impressive visuals into the show’s first season as a hook for sci-fi fans. Unfortunately, it only ended up being a waste of the comic book iconography and ultimately missed the point of the comics’ use of these giant machines entirely.

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Changes Made to One Character Could Have Resulted in an Unsatisfying Plot Trajectory

Grand Father Enters the Scene in the Paper Girls Finale

If the topic at hand is “liberties taken in the Paper Girls TV show,” there is no need to look any further than its presentation of Jahpo, more commonly referred to as “Grand Father.” In the comics, Jahpo is depicted as a calm yet intimidating figure who, like the best villains in fiction, chooses to pursue the story’s heroes at his own pace. Throughout the series, readers are shown Jahpo’s history in nonlinear fashion, from his time as a newborn in need of rescue from cavemen to his early days as Grand Father, where he’s driven deeper into war by the death of his lover, all the way to where he is when they meet him as the patient, older main antagonist of the series. Through all of this, Jahpo ended up being one of the more relatable characters in Paper Girls despite playing the villain role. While Amazon’s Paper Girls seemed uninterested in exploring Jahpo’s story, his character received one of the more integral arcs in the source material, and it would have been a pleasure to watch this unfold in live action.

With the casting of comedian Jason Mantzoukas for Jahpo in the Amazon adaptation, viewers were presented with a wholly different character. In the TV series, Jahpo comes off more frenetic and is far younger than he should be. While the Grand Father was known to make a few dry jokes throughout the comic series, the admittedly talented comedian’s portrayal didn’t fit with the character’s arc whatsoever. Given how important Jahpo’s history and growth was to the fabric of the Paper Girls comic series, the TV show’s decision to make him younger and seemingly less deliberate could have caused a ripple effect that resulted in irreparable damage to the primary story being adapted.

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It’s worth noting that around the same time as Paper Girls production, Amazon was busy with another high-budget fantasy series, The Rings of Power. While Paper Girls has a loyal following, it’s nowhere near the level of popularity of Lord of the Rings. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that Amazon opted to spend more attention and money on marketing their Lord of the Rings prequel as opposed to a new comic book adaptation.

At the end of the day, it’s always a sad thing when a series like Paper Girls is canceled, especially when the consensus from viewers is that Amazon’s adaptation was good enough to at least warrant a second season. With just a little more attention paid to the finer details of the source material, Amazon could have had another hit on its hands with Paper Girls. At least fans will always have the comics to revisit whenever they’re struck with the desire to see Erin, Mac, KJ and Tiffany complete their mind-bending time-travel adventure.

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