Before I had a job, I would usually have the house to myself with my parents off at work. This meant I had the TV to myself, and more often than not (unless there was something to catch up on) I would search through the rubbish on Virgin’s On Demand service, looking for a series to entertain myself. In the past, this has led me to things like Glory Daze and Hellcats, causing disappointment when I find out there won’t be another series. But shortly after I found series one of Pretty Little Liars, series two was also put up. And yeah, I was hooked. I’ve since seen the first half of series three, and as always when I discover a new TV show, I can’t help but feel a little sad that there isn’t another episode for a few months.
Pretty Little Liars follows Aria, Hanna, Spencer and Emily as they come to terms with the death of their friend Alison. Missing for a year, her body is discovered. Shortly before this, the girls start to receive text messages from the mysterious ‘A’, taunting them. After Ali’s body is buried, the texts become a key part of their lives, as A reveals what they know about the girls and the secrets they keep.
One of the most interesting things about the show is the way it deals with the issues the girls face. Last week, I posted up part of one of my stories, Desperate Desires, something I’ve been writing on and off since I was about fourteen. With that, I wanted to tackle the things teenagers face day-to-day, including issues revolving around drink, drugs, body issues, money, etc. Pretty Little Liars looks at similar things (though in a different, slightly more American way) and it does it really well. Hanna’s a pretty, confident girl but underlying that is someone who struggled with weight, until Alison stepped in. Spencer is an overacheiver, with a family who place the emphasis on being great. She has to exceed at everything, especially if she wants to be seen alongside her perfect sister Melissa. Aria’s family seem to be on the brink of falling apart, after her father’s affair, and Emily struggles with her identity. On top of all this, they have to face ‘A’ using this to bully and manipulate them.
Above all this, the one thing that carries the series is the identity of ‘A’. It kept me gripped, and every time they were close to revealing them, something else seemed to crop up. It’s one of those shows where the mystery – of ‘A’ and Ali’s killer – keeps you really, really wanting more. I lost count of the number times I was on the edge of my seat, cursing when the episode ended. As well as this, they do the mid-season breaks and finales brilliantly, managing, like a great book, to keep you eager to watch the next episode.
The relationships – between mothers, fathers, daughters, brothers, boyfriends and girlfriends – are done well, too.
Nothing happens too fast, or too slow. And, talking of relationships, there’s some pretty decent eye-candy, too. Firstly, there’s Fitz, who starts off as the local school’s English teacher, fresh-faced and just out of college. Aria’s relationship with Fitz does, understandably, cause problems. There seems to be a fascination with teacher/student relationships (less so in the UK, I think) but it’s something that can be done terribly. Pretty Little Liars, like most of the others things it shows, does it well. The relationship isn’t about an abusive of power, or even just ‘hot teacher/pretty student’. Aria and Fitz bond over a love of books and writing, encouraging each other and enjoying the rare moments they can just relish in their love for each other. In other words, they work really well together. Similarly, you can see why each of the characters fall for each other. Nothing is simplified, either. Arguments between couples cause real problems, instead of being forgotten by the next episode, and unlike other shows, the writers seem to remember and acknowledge past relationships. (I’m looking at you, Glee.) The girls, as well, are shown with their own flaws, but none are unlikable. For those they love, they do anything, including putting up with the crap they get from ‘A’.
And then, of course, there is Ali. It would be easy to make the missing girl a victim, someone who was lovely, wonderful and all those other things heard about people killed too young. But the truth is, she’s not. At times, it’s easy to believe she is ‘A’, that she never died and is instead torturing her friends. Because that’s what she did. From flashbacks and conversations, it’s easy to see that Ali was, in fact, a bitch, a bigger bitch than any other character. She manipulated her friends, convincing them they were nothing without her, and treated everyone like shit. Cruel nicknames for people, insults and jibes at their expense and even blinding one girl, it’s easy to see why it’s so difficult to find her killer. After all, there are a lot of people who would have benefited from her death. And again, it’s done well. Nothing is really clear throughout the two and a half seasons, including Ali. Even her closest friends discover they knew nothing about her, and each thing they dig up just induces more questions. Essentially, Pretty Little Liars is one of the few teen dramas I’ve ever seen where everything involved is done pretty well. And it knows it’s target audience; I imagine, if I was a few years younger, it would have had a much bigger impact on me. As it is, it’s still an enjoyable, gripping show, even if I am a few years older than the characters involved. In a way, it can still resonate with anyone who had to put up with girls like Ali, who struggled with their identity or weight or even relationships. It’s a great show, and worth watching.