Pretty Little Liars is a dark, compelling drama that rejects the expectations of high school shows.
I was recommended the show as ‘a bit like Gossip Girl‘ but it couldn’t be more of an inaccurate description – where Gossip Girl becomes frivolous and inconsistent, Pretty Little Liars remains highly dramatic and keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. It takes a little over the first episode to really hit its stride, but once it does, the show ratchets up the tension and keeps you enthralled in the main mystery of the show.
The show focuses on four girls, Aria, Spencer, Emily and Hanna, who live in the small, middle class town of Rosewood, Pennsylvania. Their lives are ripped apart when the fifth member of their group, Allison, disappears from a sleepover, in the middle of the night. Where most shows would produce the killer as part of the season one finale (Veronica Mars‘ who killed Lilly Kane plot is a good example) it is not so clean cut and simple with Pretty Little Liars. This premise, however, does not get old, as the mysteries around Allison and her disappearance deepen and become more and more interesting. The acting throughout the show is solid, with each of the four central actresses complimenting each other well.
Season one of the show starts a year after Allison’s disappearance, with Aria returning after a year abroad in Iceland with her family. The discovery of Allison’s dead body brings the four girls back together, as they start receiving threatening messages from a mysterious ‘A’. Each girl is blackmailed, and asked to do increasingly sinister things in order to keep the secrets that ‘A’ seems to know about them and their families. One girl is forced to eat a packet of cupcakes with pigs on the front, while another is encouraged to break up a relationship. ‘A’s demands and actions become increasingly threatening over the course of the season, and darken further as the series continues.
The show is compulsive viewing – once you’ve started watching you find yourself gripped by the central question: “Who is A?” Moments where the camera looks through a window, or a door at the girls gives you the chilling sense of someone always watching them, and reinforces the sinister presence of ‘A’ in their lives. Each of the girls has their own secrets to hide which become more and more convoluted as they try to stop ‘A’ revealing the mistakes of them, or their families. The show makes in clear that no one in Rosewood is a saint: Fathers have affairs, mothers steal, teachers cheat and police officers tamper with evidence. This creates the feeling that something new is always around the corner, and that no one can keep a secret for too long: at first from ‘A’, and then from the four girls who are determined to uncover ‘A’ come hell or high water, no matter the consequences.
There are some moments within the first season which fall a little flat. The forbidden relationship between Aria, and her teacher Ezra Fitz frustrates mainly because of the lack of regard either seems to take towards the possible consequences of their foolhardy romance. It makes it difficult to stay invested in their relationship when they seem to feel no high stakes. However, this is a minor plot, and the other relationships make up for how uncharismatic Aria and Ezra are as a couple.
One of the better parts in the show is it’s approach to homosexuality. One of the main characters, Emily, comes out as gay early in the season, and her relationships are presented no differently to those of her heterosexual friends. While her sexuality does provide some plot points, the drama comes from other people’s reactions, and by the time you hit the middle of the season her sexuality is accepted as a matter of fact.
Pretty Little Liars is the kind of show that you tell yourself that you’ll only watch one episode, and then still find yourself gripped four episodes later. Its not perfect, but it is a compelling watch.
Pretty Little Liars season one is distributed by Warner Home Video and is rated 12.