Never trust a pretty girl with an ugly secret.
Before I begin, let me state for the record that I have not read any of the books this series, Pretty Little Liars, is based on. So I’m not armed with the prior knowledge and backstory that diehard fans are.
To start off there was already a mystery presented to me from the tagline. Did it mean I should not trust my ugly secret to a pretty girl or rather I should not trust a pretty girl who herself had an ugly secret? And if it was the latter how was I to know? Sadly the confusion does not end there. In the first ten minutes of the first episode everything you need to know about the plot for the season is laid out in a very rushed, hurriedly edited style. I won’t spoil anything you can’t find out by reading the back of the DVD case.
Four best friends drift apart after the disappearance of the fifth member of their Mean Pack, Alison. They are brought back together by text messages from a mysterious sender identified only as “A.” This person knows things only Alison knows and they struggle to discover the identity of their mystery texter with hopes of discovering it is in fact Alison, from wherever she is.
The girls are: Aria Montgomery (Lucy Hale, A Cinderella Story: Once Upon A Song), a bit of a bohemian who’s recently returned from a year abroad in Iceland; Hanna Marin (Ashley Benson, Spring Breakers) the typical Queen Bee with a touch of sympathy for the outcasts; Emily Fields (Shay Mitchell, Aaron Stone), the jock of the group who’s struggling to define herself further; and Spencer Hastings (Troian Bellisario, Lauren) the overachieving brain.
The five-disc compilation breaks down as follows:
* “The Jenna Thing”
* “To Kill A Mocking Girl”
* “Can You Hear Me Now?”
* “Reality Bites Me”
* “There’s No Place Like Homecoming”
* “The Homecoming Hangover”
* “Please, Do Talk About Me When I’m Gone”
* “The Perfect Storm”
* “Keep Your Friends Close”
* “Moments Later”
* “Salt Meets Wound”
* “Know Your Frenemies”
* “Careful What U Wish 4”
* “If At First You Don’t Succeed, Lie, Lie Again”
* “Je Suis Une Amie”
* “The New Normal”
* “The Badass Seed”
* “A Person of Interest”
* “Someone to Watch Over Me”
* “Monsters In The End”
* “For Whom The Bells Toll”
Within the first ten minutes I was convinced this was going to be one of those shows where it all boils down to the police being idiots.
One of the major issues I have is the fickle nature of not only the characters but the writers of the season in terms of plot. One of the major plot elements is the girls all receive text messages from an unknown person. But about halfway through the season the why of those text messages goes off in a completely different direction and instead of adding a layer of suspense to the overall arc of the story it just comes across as completely confusing. We already have an idea of why but we don’t know who and so changing things up makes little narrative sense.
The show can’t decide which genre it wants to be — teen drama or mystery. Maybe that’s why they changed the focus of A’s texts?
Another of my problems is the characters’ lack of willingness to do the right thing or to make any choice except for that of not doing anything. But a scene or so later they act as though they are completely supportive of something they were unwilling to do moments before. All of these girls are bitches at one time or another and all of them are directly or indirectly involved with illegal activities, so when presented with an opportunity to do the right thing it becomes very hard to keep cheering for them when their choices only serve themselves and rarely are selfless acts designed to help anyone else.
I can forgive all that, though, if not for the key issue I have which is…logistics. As the season progresses and old secrets are revealed it’s understandable how in many cases someone would come across that information. Especially when you learn the characters are prone to telling secrets to complete strangers let alone their most trusted friends, but when newer secrets — present-day revelations — are exposed when the characters are alone or with one other person who can’t possibly be the person who’s texting them, then you as a viewer have to somehow be okay with this happening. And I’m not.
I drink the Kool-aid as much as the next person, but the show makes it seem like finding out who A is would be pretty simple. It seems to be as easy as let’s look for whoever is flunking out of school because obviously A has no time to do anything else other than stalk these four.
There is also a crucial moment in the season where the police are involved (finally, I might add) and I’ll just say something is missing from one of the girls’ laptops. Now I’m not Steve Jobs or Bill Gates but even I know that a system restore to a point earlier than when the item went missing will result in that item being there.
My point here is the police never follow through on this, which given that things become serious enough the FBI is called in it at one point seems completely implausible, especially given how quickly this item could be found. Also everyone texts. Didn’t I hear something about once you put something into cyberspace it’s always there? One search warrant for the characters’ phones exposes everything.
Some of the things that were typical for me exclaim during my viewing include phrases that will make it all too apparent the issues I had: Security? Security! So how old are they supposed to be again? What teacher acts like this? What parent acts like this? I never knew a teenager who acted like this. Oh my God, seriously? No…seriously? Really?
Plus way too much relies on coincidence, especially concerning the introduction of new characters. Instead of the girls being proactive, new characters are introduced in order to perform actions for the girls. Plotlines are started and then discarded, sometimes within the same episode. They either don’t drive the story forward enough to warrant their inclusion in the first place or they become loose threads.
And of course there were a couple of disturbing things I just couldn’t get past: 1) the whole Ian plot line, 2) the fact that Spencer’s mother and sister bear uncanny resemblances to Mariska Hargitay and Rosario Dawson respectively, and 3) what really surprised me the most was the notion of treating underage sexuality so lightly. No one involved seems to believe there would be or suffers consequences from situations that if discovered would be statutory rape.
Probably Pretty Little Liars‘ biggest flaw is its attempt to be Gossip Girl. I’ve never watched Gossip Girl but my younger sister had been interested in the first season and from what I remembered of her descriptions it sounded an awful lot like the blurb on the back of the Pretty Little Liars DVD package. Unknown person who sends texts to major characters? Check. Mystery surrounding the characters’ pasts that this unknown person reveals prior knowledge of? Check. Am I wrong? Let me know.
The audio is fine, never too loud or too soft, pretty much what you would expect from a show that premiered on television less than two years ago. As far as the video goes there were more than a few moments where the camera captured the obvious makeup way too closely, and there were some annoying first-person POV shots that were intended to be from A’s perspective but which didn’t do anything other than clue us in to what we’d already known. The widescreen format is fine for this and is never too blurry, softly focused or improperly lit to be a distraction.
The extras include Pretty Little Liars: Two truths and a Lie, which is a short featurette (06 min) during which the four leads each list off two truths and a lie and reveal which is which. It’s something I’d never seen as a special feature and it provided touches of personality to the actresses. Making of Pretty Little Liars is the pretty standard fare one would expect from a first season release. The actors, executive producers, costume designer, etc. talk about how they all came to be involved with the project and then they gush over it (17 min). Little Secrets from the Set is a behind-the-scenes featurette that combines the actresses’ footage from their flipcams with traditional interview shots about the aforementioned footage (8 min). Lucy Reveals a Secret is the trailer for A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song. Note: it’s referred to as “The next A Cinderella Story” on the disk. I had to go to IMDb to get the actual title (1 min). Each disk besides the fifth contains deleted scenes, which can be watched as a block by accessing the Deleted Scenes menu. Or someone can access the Episodes menu and click on the scissor icon to the left of an episode title and watch the scenes specific to that particular episode.
I watched this to see Holly Marie Combs (Charmed), and I was not disappointed with her, or with any of the other parents actually.
Also, the main characters are enjoyable. Especially after the first disc’s worth of episodes, the actresses all seem to really settle into the roles, and I would continue to watch them without the whole “A” storyline. The things occurring outside of the “A” plot are interesting, and I would be fine just watching those things unfold. Plus the police are not complete idiots.
It’s unbelievable. No, seriously. The relationships between the girls is what’s supposed to be the highlight but there was not a single episode where I didn’t audibly proclaim “Oh my God,” with a groan which woke my neighbors up. They’re being stalked by someone who knows all their dirty secrets and they don’t care? They just don’t project the right intensity of emotion nor do they act in a way anybody who really thought this was happening would. They need to be paranoid, not blindly trusting and falling in and out of relationships while being stalked.
They fall victim to so many horror movie clichés (e.g. *strange noise when alone in room* “Hello? Is someone there?”). The one simple step of confiding in the police from the start would have provided a really interesting palette onto which the season could have been painted.
The season concludes with what is without a doubt the most implausible season finale I have ever watched. I don’t say that lightly, trust me. It comes back to what I said before about logistics. For what happened during the last fifteen minutes of the finale to have occurred makes no sense without superpowers being involved.