‘Paper Girls’ 1×04 review: “It Was Never About the Corn” blossoms into a solid exploration of girlhood

A couple of weeks ago, I would not have recommended Paper Girls. Episode 1 was so terrible that I wanted to stop watching the show and chuck my laptop into the Fraser River. Yet after watching the first four episodes, I am happy to say that the science fiction drama is a solid hang. There are some glaring problems with the later iteration of the series, such as its undercooked take on time travel and its problematic portrayal of certain Black female characters. However, the YA romp does a fine job of exploring the age between childhood and adolescence. Though Prioress’s troubling characterizations continue to hold Paper Girls back, the small tender moments among the four leads make “It Was Never About the Corn” a worthwhile experience.

“It Was Never About the Corn” begins with Young Erin (Riley Lai Nelet) playing a fortune teller paper game, or hilariously nicknamed the cootie catcher, with her younger sister Missy (Abigail Lue) in the late 1980s. While moving the folded paper flaps in and out and side to side, the older girl predicts her sibling’s future and tells her she will have 100 babies with sitcom star ALF. This cute and wholesome scene between the close kin keenly foreshadows the tragic fate in store for them. Cut to 2019, Missy (Jessika Van), now an adult, is waiting for her older sister to stop by the real estate office so they can sell their childhood home. However, Adult Erin (Ali Wong) does not show up as she is too busy saving the world with her younger self.

Back at the farmhouse, Larry (Nate Corddry) tells Adult Erin that since she is paired with the robot via the device from the first episode, she is the only one who can pilot the time-traveling machine and help the STF Underground defeat the Old Watch. Initially, Adult Erin rejects the plan until Tiffany (Camryn Jones) convinces her she can use the mech to drop the paper girls off at their original timeline. Now determined to bring the preteens back home, Erin lets Larry teach her how to maneuver the giant bot. However, the training session does not go well since the middle-aged woman barely takes the situation seriously.

Moments later, Missy stops by Larry’s farmhouse to understand why her sister missed their appointment at the real estate office. Like Adult Erin’s training, the next couple of scenes is an absolute disaster for anyone whose last name is Tieng. Missy calls her older sister out for shacking it up with some random dude instead of helping her sell their mother’s house (keep in mind, they are not shacking it up). Adult Erin retorts that Missy was not there for her sick mother because she was too busy being a successful military pilot. Even Young Erin is a mess as she receives her first period with no one there to assist her. As the Tieng family breaks down emotionally and physically, KJ (Fina Strazza) hightails it out of the farmhouse to find Mac before the portal to go home closes.

Prime Video

Speaking of Mac, the youngster is having the best time of her life with big bro Dylan (Cliff Chamberlain). The foul mouth girl throws illegal fireworks with her brother, eats fine dining at Chili’s, and teases her new sisters, I mean nieces Wilder (Clare Ditsch) and Alice Jr. (Joely Taryn). Dylan even suggests adopting his little sister so she can finally have a normal childhood. Despite her reservations about her brother becoming her new dad, she gladly takes the offer. Sadly, her moment ends when KJ finds Mac at the chain restaurant and tells her that if they do not leave now, Prioress (Adina Porter) and her crew will kill her.

Mac leaves the restaurant with KJ, knowing that staying with her new family will put them in danger. In a way, this scene marks the character’s growth as it shows how much the girl is willing to put her brother’s wellbeing above her needs. Of course, the young child steps away from the life she deserves, but at least the people she loves will not get hurt by Prioress. Eventually, Mac and KJ reunite with the remaining paper girls at the farmhouse, and they warp back to 1988. The episode ends with Prioress and her boss, the Grand Father (Jason Mantzoukas), standing in front of the farmhouse in utter disappointment.

The most vital component in Episode 4 is the performance of the cast. One scene that showcases the young actor’s skills is KJ and Mac’s motorbike ride back to the farmhouse. In this scene, Mac silently cries as she holds on tight to the other paper girl. This scene excels because it communicates everything without saying anything at all. Rosinsky also sells the hell out of the moment with her physical performance. Like the other performers, she has a knack for getting viewers to care about an annoying brat. If Prime Video does not renew Paper Girls for a second season, I look forward to seeing what these actors do next.

That said, Prioress’s characterization in this episode is wholly problematic. Even though we get more scenes with Porter, her take on the character is pure cringe. Sure, it is understandable that the warrior from the future is under extreme pressure, but why does she have to use violence and verbal threats every time she interacts with someone? Generally speaking, the series does not know how to write the Black woman without relying on lazy stereotypes. It is a shame, too, since writer K. C. Perry puts in the work to make Young Erin and Tiffany three-dimensional. Unfortunately, every step forward Paper Girls takes, the drama misses quite a few steps.


All episodes for Paper Girls are available on Prime Video. Check back for more weekly coverage of Paper Girls next week.


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