Right on time: Nostalgia and heart delivered in 'Paper Girls'

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Joshua Amy / TV Media
Riley Nai Lelet, Camryn Jones, Fina Strazza and Sofia Rosinsky in "Paper Girls"

Riley Nai Lelet, Camryn Jones, Fina Strazza and Sofia Rosinsky in "Paper Girls"

Very few first-time jobs have the same iconic charm as getting a paper route. The timeless rite of passage for many adolescents has long been a staple of North American suburbia. "Timeless" may just be a more apt job description than ever before, however, when "Paper Girls" premieres Friday, July 29, on Prime Video.

The morning after Halloween 1988, in the early hours of Nov. 1, four 12-year-old girls set out on their scheduled paper routes. Opting to stick together to avoid any mischievous pranksters still out to cause trouble, the girls form a ragtag team. But when a group of teenagers seemingly pull a cruel joke on them, they find themselves caught up in a conflict between time-traveling adversaries and are ultimately transported to the year 2019.

Faced with unknown threats and timelines, the paper girls must band together and best use each of their individual strengths. Headstrong and cynical Mac (Sofia Rosinsky, "Fast Layne") comes from a blue-collar, Irish-Catholic home. Accustomed to needing to prove herself, she was the first girl in town to get a paper route.

Tiffany (Camryn Jones, "Pacific Rim: The Black"), meanwhile, grew up in a mixed-race adoptive family and is both resourceful and optimistic. A bit of a geek, her love of technology certainly comes in handy, but she'd often rather be at home playing video games.

KJ (Fina Strazza, "Above the Shadows," 2019) is seen as the brains of the group. Although she is both loyal and kind, she remains somewhat guarded around the other girls. Raised in a wealthy Jewish family, KJ uses sports as an outlet for her frustration with how the other girls see her.

Erin (Riley Lai Nelet, "Altered Carbon") is "the new girl," having recently moved to town, and the last of the four to get a paper route. Struggling to fit in as a young Asian-American girl in a predominantly white town, Erin's sensitive and considerate nature makes up the softer side of their team.

Riding that 30(ish)-year cycle of nostalgia that made synth-pop and fluorescent jackets cool again, "Paper Girls" is sure to deliver on that feeling of coming-of-age tales best watched on VHS. And while the comforting simplicity of the past is on a collision course with present-day complexities (time travel will do that), smack dab in the middle is Erin's future self (Ali Wong, "American Housewife"), whom the girls encounter while looking for answers in 2019.

Upending the typical coming-of-age story, "Paper Girls" asks its characters to come to terms with who they will become. Adult Erin is not exactly what young Erin expected from her future self: worn down by life, living alone and dealing with anxiety. Attempting to counter her older self's self-deprecation with compassion, Erin must find a way to recruit her help. Not only must Erin, Mac, Tiffany and KJ get home to 1988, but a dangerous faction of time-traveling purists known as the Old Watch is also hunting them down.

Ali Wong and Riley Nai Lelet in "Paper Girls"

Ali Wong and Riley Nai Lelet in "Paper Girls"

These extraordinary circumstances are punctuated by a hyper-saturated color palette that feels ripped straight from the pages of the comic book series it's based on. Although comparisons to Netflix's nostalgia-fueled "Stranger Things" are inevitable, the "Paper Girls" comics predate it. Writer Brian K. Vaughan (author of critical darlings "Saga" and "Y: The Last Man") and illustrator Cliff Chiang (who won a 2016 Eisner Award for his work on "Paper Girls") are attached to the series as executive producers.

The type of films that inspired the series — all very much products of the '80s — usually showed the experiences of primarily straight, white, teen boys. The "Paper Girls" comics garnered a committed fan base thanks to their stories of female, queer and non-white characters — people whose stories often went untold in the '80s and '90s, something that has only recently started to change.

Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Chiang reflected on what the series means to him.

To be able to tell a story featuring an Asian-American character that's not necessarily an immigrant story but a coming-of-age story ... I kind of didn't realize how much I needed it until I was drawing it," Chiang said. "Between Erin and Tiffany, and KJ and Mac, there's such a great diversity within the group of personalities. I think it's easy to find yourself in one of them, if not all of them."

The young, breakout cast of "Paper Girls" has certainly earned the respect of their co-workers. In the same EW interview, Vaughan remarked that the cast "are some of the best younger actors I've ever seen."

Wong also lauded her co-stars in a news release, saying, "I am so excited for viewers to discover the incredible young leads of 'Paper Girls.'" On sharing the role of Erin with Lai Nelet, Wong added: "Our collaborations in crafting this character together could not have been more fun."

The time is right to catch these rising stars in a one-of-a-kind adventure. All eight episodes of "Paper Girls" are available to stream as of their Prime Video delivery Friday, July 29.