Pretty Little Liars: A Discussion

Published July 17, 2012 by criticaditelevisore

The Liars get messages from a person known only as “A”, who threatens to reveal past and present secrets. Believing “A” to be Alison, as she was the only one aware of their secrets, they are shocked when the police find her corpse buried in the backyard of her former house.

I first saw this season when it first began two summers ago.  With such an inherently violent and disturbing premise, the show’s plot was definitely out of the box for a network as “family friendly” as ABC Family. What made the show initially catch my eye was the macabre nature of the show, along with the taboo depictions of a student-teacher relationship and one of television’s most notable lesbian teen characters.

I’ve always been a Nancy Drew-type reader, but watching a constructed multi-season long murder mystery and surrounding conspiracy is certainly rewarding. Even critically acclaimed shows such as The Killing or Twin Peaks can rarely hold onto the murder as a central plot point – challenges with sustaining a series focusing on a single major murder can be seen with the short longevity, or audience disillusionment. As shown by the response and ratings for this week’s airing of the finale of The Killing, the prestige behind such shows tend to decline rather quickly when the audience is felt cheated. With the revealing of the respective murderers in the end of the second season (or a corresponding television film), the shows essentially poison themselves. While most critics claim the Twin Peaks cancellation was due to its quite niche audience, critics overwhelmingly agree that The Killing suffers from shoddy, messy writing. There is no way around this without a clear vision of where the showrunner wants to go with their vision, and how they plan to execute this.

Many other shows spread the over-arching mystery among procedural formats such as Monk or Veronica Mars, which were both successful in noting the continuance of the titular characters’ daily life, but still coming back to the mysterious loss of a loved one (Monk’s wife, Veronica’s best friend and mother). Adrian Monk and Veronica Mars both happened to be private detectives, as opposed to actual law enforcement agents. This certainly lends to the longevity of their respective series by inherently adding a layer of serialization – Monk lasted 8 seasons, while Veronica Mars lasted 3 but despite ratings improvement, critical acclaim, and a clear vision moving forward was axed by The CW. However, it is my opinion that the writing, and subsequent audience satisfaction that separates The Killing from the Veronica Mars of the entertainment world.

Pretty Little Liars started its third season June 5, and so far sees no signs of slowing down. It is ABC Family’s highest rated show, and has ranked the highest rated show among women 12-34. The show is successful at keeping the high school lives of the Liars intertwined with the threats against them from -A, the anonymous blackmailer with information that only their deceased Queen Bee Alison could have known. Upon rewatching the first season this week, I realized I had been dismissing an extremely well-written and thought out show – one that captivated me much more than its “adult counterparts” such as the aforementioned AMC show. The writers know their audience extraordinarily well, and this is observed by the show’s success.

Episodes to Watch: 

Pretty Little Liars: Keep Your Friends Close

Pretty Little Liars: Know Your Frenemies

Pretty Little Liars: A Person of Interest

Pretty Little Liars: For Whom The Bell Tolls


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