By now, audiences of teen dramas are used to seeing 16-year-olds being played by 25-year-olds and their parents being played by 30-year-olds. So when confronted with the fact that ABC Family's new drama series Pretty Little Liars has a cast of ingenues whose resumes already boast major roles on Buffy, Charmed, ER, 24 and The Young and the Restless, all we can do is laugh at the absurdity and move on. As if to further underline the girls' actual ages, the series is being compared to Desperate Housewives left and right, and after watching the pilot, I find that the association rings true. But to Pretty Little Liars' credit, it's more akin to the earlier, better seasons of Desperate Housewives, back when it had some quality campy-but-dark mysteries.
Let's jump right in to the plot: Our group of girls is hanging out in a sketchy barn on a spooky night in Rosewood, PA, their super-generic upper-class town. After sharing some secrets and (I think?) drinking, they pass out and wake up to realize that their friend Ali is gone. We jump to a year later, when (shocker!) so much has changed. Here's what's up with all of the former besties:
Aria (Lucy Hale): After Ali disappeared, Aria's family spent a year in Iceland and now she's totally out of touch with her former friends. We soon learn she and her dad (Chad Lowe) share a big secret: He cheated on her mom (Holly Marie Combs) and she has no idea! Anyways, Aria drops her little brother off at practice, and even though she's only 16, she goes to a bar where she ends up meeting a pseudo-hottie Ezra (Ian Harding). The two have (sort of) instant chemistry and immediately hook up in the bathroom. The next day at school, Aria's just hanging out in English class, and in walks Mr. Okay-I-Guess-He's-Sort-Of-Cute. The moment she makes eye contact with him, Aria gets a mysterious text that says, "Maybe he fools around with students all the time. A lot of teachers do. Just ask your dad. - A." Ali? Is that Ali? Ali's the only other person who knows about her dad's affair! Eek! Still, Aria's gonna try to make it work with Ezra.
Hanna (Ashley Benson): We meet Hanna as she shops with her friend Mona (Janel Parrish). Cool as a cucumbers, the two walk out with stolen merchandise like it's their jobs. As it turns out, Hanna used to be a fat loser and Ali used to make fun of her for it, but now that Ali's MIA, Hanna is Rosewood's Queen Bee. And she's also really rich, so it's weird that she stole those sunglasses -- or, it would be weird, but we learn that Hanna's dad walked out and her and her mom (Laura Leighton), so it's clear that she has a lot of issues and a need for attention. Anyways, while Hanna and her mom are hanging out at home, the police come to their door and arrest Hanna for shoplifting. Luckily, though, the mom seduces the cop and gets her daughter out clean. But little does she know that while Hanna was waiting for her mom to ho it up, she got a text that read: "Be careful, Hanna. I hear prison food makes you fat - A."
Spencer (Troian Bellisario): Busy/talented/smart Spencer is basically perfect-- she even reads To Kill a Mockingbird for fun. She converted the old spooky barn o' doom into a loft, but then her bitchy sister Melissa (Torrey DeVitto) informs her that she and her sexy British doctor boyfriend Wren (Julian Morris) are actually going to be living there for a while! No! On the bright side, Wren later gives Spenc an ultra-sexy bikini backrub and there is so much sexual tension to the point that she makes orgasm noises! But Melissa comes home and they immediately stop the foreplay. After, Spenc watches the two of them make out and she gets an email that says: ""Poor Spencer, Always wants Melissa's boyfriends. But remember, you kiss I tell! - A."
Emily (Shay Mitchell): The biggest goody two-shoes mama's girl of them all, Emily delivers a welcome basket to the new neighbors who are moving into Ali's former house and immediately gets chummy with the teen daughter, Maya (Biance Lawson). Things get really sexually tense between she and Em, and then they smoke weed together and later almost kiss. Later, when Em's getting changed in her high school's locker room, she finds a note that reads: "Hey Em! I've been replaced, glad you've found another friend to kiss - A."
Ali (Sasha Pieterse): Even though she's supposedly been missing for a year, it's looking like Ali's either alive or a ghost, what with all of these threatening messages. Then again, toward the end of the episode the police find her body, so who knows! Soon thereafter, Ali's body is finally put to rest, and at her funeral Aria, Hanna, Emily and Spencer realize that they're all getting creepy messages from "A," and mention that they've all kept some sort of mysterious secret about a beautiful blind girl named Jenna (Tammin Sursok). After the ceremony, the girls are all freaking out and this detective comes over and is like, "One of you totes killed Ali" and then they're all confused and upset, and simultaneously get a text that says: "I'm still here, bitches, and I know everything - A."
There were pacing problems, the characters were hard to tell apart,and the acting was stiff, but even though (or maybe because) the pilot was campy and very tweeny, it's definitely a fun, guilty-pleasure summer show.
And as far as continuity issues between the ABC Family adaptation and the original book series goes, after reading through your comments on the forums (as I haven't read the novels), it seems like people are satisfied with the adaptation. And my favorite thing about Pretty Little Liars: I imagine that a lot of impressionable tweens who'll be watching the series on bated breath will now be afraid of opening up their cell phones and texting all the time, which is sort of brilliant! Here's hoping!
Check out a video interview with the stars of Pretty Little Liars.
What did you think of Pretty Little Liars? Are you now terrified of getting texts? Sound off in the comments, and be sure to check out the other shows debuting this summer!
Watch TWoP's editors discuss this summer's TV guilty pleasures in this segment airing on the New York Nonstop cable news channel:
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