Why I Love Pretty Little Liars

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Why I Love... Pretty Little Liars.png
Author: Ashlyn Sindal, April 2015

The first time I saw Pretty Little Liars pop up in my Netflix recommendations, I thought it was one of those weird flukes, like how sometimes Netflix tells me I’ll enjoy Disney’s Pirate Fairy because I watched Archer. Teen dramas aren’t exactly my thing, and the swirly script and and apparent tea party on the show’s banner didn’t really speak to me. But it kept coming up in my recommendations, and one very dreary Saturday, bored out of my mind, I figured I’d give it a shot.

I was hooked within five minutes.

The first episode of Pretty Little Liars opens with a blatant horror movie cliche. Four teenage girls (our Pretty Little Liars) sit in a circle in a barn, laughing and passing around a party cup while a thunderstorm rages outside. Suddenly, the power cuts out. The Liars huddle together in fright as the barn door slowly creaks open...and in bounces Alison, a pretty blonde who in under thirty seconds manages to establish herself as the epitome of every mean girl stereotype. When the Liars awake the next morning, Alison is missing. “I think I heard her scream,” one of the Liars admits with a shaking voice.

The story picks up a year later, with Alison still missing. Each of Alison’s friends starts to receive odd notes and text messages signed “A,” which at first simply hint at knowing the Liars’ deeply-held secrets, but quickly become threatening. By the end of the first episode, we’ve got our first dead body, and the mystery is off and running.

There are a lot of things I love about this show, but one of the biggest is all of the nods to classic film and literature. There are Hitchcock references galore (the Liars spend a lot of time at the Rear Window Brew), and the Rosewood High English department seems to have a knack for assigning novels and plays that are remarkably allegorical of the Liars’ lives. I love trying to spot all of the references and figure what clues they provide.

Another thing I love is the tone of the show. There are a lot of things that happen in Pretty Little Liars that I wouldn’t buy from a show with adult protagonists in a supposedly real-world setting. But I can accept them in show about teenagers, because even the most ridiculous events that take place in the show recall the sorts of fears I experienced as a teenager. In Rosewood, the adults really are clueless, the Liars can’t depend on anyone except each other (and even that is questionable at times), and every decision the Liars make is literally a life and death dilemma. While none of this is particularly realistic, it evokes the emotional intensity of adolescence really well.

Then, there’s Emily. I know LGBT representation isn’t a big deal for everyone, but it is for me, and for all of the ridiculous, over the top drama Pretty Little Liars has in other areas, the character of Emily Fields and her struggle to understand and accept her sexuality come off as very authentic. I won’t go into details so as to avoid spoilers, but watching Emily’s character develop has definitely been one of my favorite non-mystery-related parts of the show.

And finally, there’s Alison. I can’t remember the last time I felt such a strong combination of pity and loathing for a fictional character. Even after five seasons of learning about the events that led up to the night she disappeared, I’m still not sure whether Alison is more villain or victim, and I find that ambiguity really delightful.

Pretty Little Liars just wrapped up its fifth season, with two left to go. A lot of the questions I had after watching the first episode have been answered, but not all of them, and there are new mysteries to unravel. I can’t say I know where the show is headed (although I’ve got at least ten working theories), but I’m sure of one thing: wherever this crazy train is headed, I will enjoy the hell out of the ride.