As I wind up the fourth season of Pretty Little Liars, furiously messaging my friend Clare updates via Twitter, I realise that my enjoyment of this show has truly evolved from casual show I watch when I don’t care about content quality to omg there is nothing more ridiculous than this wonderful show.
I came to Pretty Little Liars the same way that many other people I know did – someone told them there was a relatively good queer storyline. This holds true throughout the show, you’ll be pleased to read, though the love interests of Emily have a habit of disappearing for many episodes, whereas the boring straight boys linger in the background.
The premise of the show is a little bit Desperate Housewives – five frenemies pal around, one gets murdered, a year later the remaining four start receiving weird messages threatening to reveal their innermost secrets from the ominous “A”. But once you hit near the end of season one, where the writers end the pretence that this show has anything to do with the books, everything goes bonkers. I’ll try to avoid specific spoilers but you have to know what’s coming to appreciate the first season of relatively moderate lies and teenage dramas. There are masked parties on a steam train where people get murdered and shoved into boxes, there are confrontations on ski lifts, there are psychic women in instagram filtered towns, there are whole episodes dedicated to one of the characters having drug-induced dreams.
The girls themselves are engaging characters that you go through phases of loving and loathing. We have type-A high achiever Spencer who is a walking teenage encyclopaedia in preppy clothing. We have the alternative Aria who writes things and lounges around on her bed covered in pillows a lot, having affairs with inappropriately aged men. We have swim-team star Emily who comes out as gay, struggles with homophobia, and is basically the best one. We have Hannah (the other blonde, the not-dead blonde) who likes fancy clothes and is a bit dim and shallow and to be honest I’m not quite sure how else to describe her; maybe loyal, some of the time? Finally we have Alison, the departed, who apparently had the whole town either wrapped around her finger or trying to kill her. The actress who plays her has the most seething delivery of cruel manipulative lines that make me shudder (she exists in flashbacks), yet you can’t help but love her like her four core pals do.
The show is by no means perfect. The dialogue is often laugh out loud hilarious. Evidently the writers on occasion have an end goal for a scene, and spend time using clunky dialogue to set up that final sharp line followed by a cut away. For instance there’s a whole weird bit where some of the characters are arguing in this strange way that references the Wizard of Oz just so Hannah can say “You should go to the Wizard and ask him for a heart”. A moment in one of the later episodes of season four had Aria saying “I have a finger you can use, and it’s not the nice kind”.
This, plus the ridiculous plot twists, make this show its own genre of horror-comedy-thriller. It’s high melodrama from the last few episodes of season one onwards as people start being implicated or potentially bumped off only to come back to life or have never been dead or have been hanging out in a psych ward or have been in a hotel that they weren’t at or they might have been but you cannot tell ever.
There are a few genuinely not okay bits – a few transphobic slurs aimed at one character in particular, by characters who are known to be bad, but this doesn’t forgive it.
A much less serious problem I had with the show is that I had white-male-character blindness, and ended up not realising significant plot points because I wasn’t sure which peripheral man had lied/died/kissed someone. In my defence they did change the actor for one of the male characters. Four seasons on, I think I’ve just about gotten it.
Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, give it a go. Get on Netflix and feel free to send me your updates as you descend into the Liars’ world of pure nonsense.