Pretty Little Liars – Inoffensive? How’d that happen?

by d

Forgive my delays, I have TiVo. I just watched episode 4, and I felt it was pretty mild. The tension was fairly low throughout, and nothing leapt out at me as blatantly bad. That makes this a great point write an intro to the series itself.

Billed as Desperate Housewives for teens, PLL was born in the marketing department, then shopped to writers and TV studios. I haven’t heard good things about the books, but the show seems to be taking off.

Like DH, PLL is set in a pretty little suburban town. Like DH, our primary characters were a group of five friends that has been cut down to four. We knew Mary Alice was dead–she shot her brain out. But no one ever found Allison’s body, she just  went missing. Now, a year after her disappearance, her four remaining friends are getting mysterious–and dangerous–messages from someone who signs themselves as “A” and knows secrets only Allison could know. A appears to be stalking them–creepily appropriate messages are delivered at just the right moment, mere minutes, or even seconds, after things take place. It begins with text messages, then branches out to letter, radio dedications, items left in strange places, and, at the end of tonight’s episode, a message on a mirror in Allison’s favorite lipstick.

Each girl has her own terrible secret going. If her friends know, she doesn’t want anyone else to.

Aria, the primary, knows her father has cheated on her mother. She is worried that this will start again. This has a level irony, as she’s falling, hard, for the new hot, young teacher at school. They met outside of school, at a bar, and she didn’t tell him she was only sixteen, so they’d already made out intensely before discovering the age difference. (Don’t worry, Lucy Hale is actually 21. She’s just short.) Now she and Mr. Fitz are trying to work out how far they dare to go, while knowing they shouldn’t go anywhere at all. And, yes, she tried transferring out of his class, the request was denied. Aria makes up her mind to tell her mother about her father’s affair, but when she gets home, her mother is already reading a letter from A.

Hanna was originally the weakest link. She was overweight, shy, and downtrodden. Flashbacks indicate that Allison is responsible for bringing her into the group and would hold it over her head. With Allison gone, Hanna has lost weight, gone blond, and become a little queen bee in her own right. Hanna’s parents are divorced. She has become a shoplifter, and is caught lifting sunglasses at the mall. In order to ‘save’ her daughter, Hanna’s mother starts sleeping with the detective assigned to her case. This strains their relationship, made worse by the fact that the detective is a good deal younger than her mother. The same detective is working the case of Allison’s disappearance, which is reopened when her body is found. (Aah, but was that really it?) Hanna is dating a boy with strong moral convictions who does not want to have sex yet. (Wait–high school boy who doesn’t want sex? Hm.) She is so upset by the rejection, that she deliberately smashes up his car. Nothing mommy can do about that.

Spencer is the overachiever of the group. Her family is high-powered, with everyone making lots of money, going to Iy League schools, winning awards, etc. etc. Spencer is the youngest, and she is doing her best to live up to the family legacy. Her older sister has just brought home a British fiance. We learn that Spencer has had the hots for her sister’s boyfriends before… The sister catches Spencer and Ren snogging, and calls the marriage off. Now Ren is pitching his case to Spencer–he wishes he’d met her first. So far she’s holding somewhat firm, just one or two more kisses. Oh, and that academic pressure? In a moment of weakness (badly played, the level of desperation should have been amped up) she steals one of her sister’s old essays and submits it as her own. Her teacher is so impressed he’s submitted it for a national award. Whoops.

Emily is one of the most interesting characters, for me. She’s attracted to her new neighbor, Maya, and they start to kiss within days of meeting. But Emily already has a boyfriend. A boyfriend who tries to force himself on her in the girls’ locker room. She’s rescued by another neighbor, a boy, who previously took the heat for a prank-gone-wrong the girls pulled on his sister. Seems he might have a thing for Emily, too. Meanwhile, Emily “think[s] something is wrong with [her].” She’s definitely afraid of other people discovering her thing with Maya. But it turns out she and Allison used to kiss, too.

That’s about all you need to know to pick up now.

Don't forget the virginal crossed legs and hands.

I’m much more upset with the show’s marketing than the show itself. Take that promo image up there, with the four girls all dirty and toussled. Liars, dirty. But still sexy! And then there’s this image, which was on the ABC Family page tonight.

Nothing says Sexy Young Thang like tiny skirts, swayed hips, and pouts. Like most shows about teenagers, none of these young women are under 20. (I’ll never forget that old Clueless quote–just old enough to play teenagers on TV!) In theory, F and I could play high schoolers. Wow, what a laugh.

Their skinny, pretty, well-dressed looks stand out even more sharply now that Huge is running. The kids on 10 Things and Secret Life don’t look like fashion plates the way these girls do. (Oh, and everyone always has Perfect Hair. Duh! …all except Adrian on Secret Life, who is noticably without eye makeup when she’s in her jammies at home. I told you I like Adrian.)

It’s not the best show, but it’s also not the worst. Mostly, I’m watching to see how Emily is handled. The self-destructive behavior of the others isn’t really up my alley. And I do want to know who or what A is, and how they’re pulling this off. I enjoy Desperate Housewives because it’s uproariously funny and doesn’t always take itself seriously. PLL could fall into the trap of being a drama downer, but odds are that as long as everyone looks amazing and someone’s out to get them, this show will do just fine.

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