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As the headline states, this is possibly my new favourite TV series. When one episode ended, I was wishing the week away for a new episode. Other TV series that I am watching at the moment include Desperate Housewives and Gossip Girl. Therefore, if you like either of the above then this may be the series for you.
There are four main characters: Aria, Emily, Hanna and Spencer. They are your "average" school girls in the respect that they have secrets, have relationships and go to parties. However, there is one thing less than average about them: the previous summer, their best friend died and they are spending the next school year investigating who was behind her murder.
The series starts off with the four characters coming back from their summer breaks where they have all grieved the death of their friend, Alison, independently. They start receiving texts from "A" who they initially think could possibly be their friend Alison as her body was never found and the text included things that only Alison would know. However, when her body was found the four friends knew that it must be someone else, but did not know who.
This leads to the main plot of the story, the four girls are trying to work out who "A" is and who killed Alison. The subplots includes their love lives, relationships with their parents, homosexuality, hiding the secrets and the police thinking that they are in on the death of Alison.
Currently there has only been one season, but the second season is due to begin in June 2011 and for one ... I cannot wait!
I've been a little bored lately since ditching my cable TV subscription and recently found myself endlessly flicking through channel after channel trying to find something interesting to watch. My remote control was finally laid to rest when I stopped on channel VIVA and discovered this show 'Pretty Little Liars'. Now, VIVA is not a channel I normally watch since it's mostly dedicated to airing modern music videos and teen movies and I'm in my thirties. However, this show caught my eye for a number of reasons I'll detail in the review.
Making it's debut in June 2010 Pretty Little Liars is based on a series of books for teenagers by author Sara Shepard. I haven't read any of the books as they sound like your typical teen mystery books. I understand through accessing the official website that the TV show has changed some details about the characters and storyline due to the casting process and the fact that they want to keep the show a mystery rather than it being spoiled by fans who have already read the books.
The premise of the show is that a gorgeous, vivacious young girl called Alison, who is the queen bee of her group of girlfriends, vanishes one night in the town of Rosewood at the age of fifteen. Nobody knows what has happened or where she has gone. The tragedy forces her devastated friends to disband and a year later, when one of them returns after being abroad for a year, they begin to rebuild their relationships. The four girls dealing with Alison's disappearance are:
Aria: Played by Lucy Hale who will clearly emerge as a star after this show is finished, Aria is a confident and intelligent young woman. She is bold and feels mature for her age and this leads her into having a relationship with a much older man. Aria at first seems like the main character in the show as there seems to be a radiance around the actress who plays her. She is like the Katie Holmes of Dawson's Creek.
Emily: Emily is played by actress Shay Mitchell, who'd I'd probably say is the weakest performer of the group, although as the series progresses she does seem to be improving slightly in acting technique. Emily is sporty and popular and seems to have the perfect life but she begins to feel unhappy in her relationship with her boyfriend and feel attraction towards another student, Maya.
Spencer: Troian Bellisario was an awesome choice to play rich, spoilt, super-confident Spencer since she must have been brought up in the lap of luxury (her father is Donald Bellisario the mega-successful TV producer and screenwriter) and I doubt she ever wanted for anything, just like Spencer. She is a confident, sexual and high achieving young woman but her ambition sometimes gets the better of her. Despite her background Bellisario has clearly worked hard on perfecting her talents as an actress and is possibly the most interesting performer to watch out of the four main leads.
Hanna: Ashley Benson plays former fat girl Hanna who has struggled to transform from geek to chic. She comes from a home where her mother works but struggles to pay the rent and is the girl who has worked hardest to keep her place in the group of friends. Benson has fabulous comic timing and is a joy to watch.
There are a host of supporting characters who are just as interesting as the main four girls and we also have frequent flashbacks to the time when Alison was in the picture. Alison is played by the young and talented Sasha Pieterse who lights up the screen as this rather cruel and controlling little vixen. Pieterse manages to convince that this manipulative, attractive and socially adept girl was the centre of the universe for all of the other characters up until her disappearance.
So when I found Pretty Little Liars on VIVA I was instantly captivated. Why, you might ask, since the show is clearly aimed at a teenage audience? Well, firsty there is something extremely interesting about the whole cast of the show. There are some faces I recognise like Holly Marie Combs who starred in supernatural drama 'Charmed' and people like the pouting Angelina Jolie lookalike Tammin Sursok from Home and Away. The rest of the cast are extremely easy on the eye and the central four are dressed like model teen idols out of a fashion magazine.
Another reason I love this show is the mystery of it all. The credits of the show, featuring an odd song by The Pierces, is of the strangest TV show openers I've ever seen and it really sums up the creepy, sad storyline of Alison's disappearance. There are many threads running through the show that sustain various mysteries with two major plots in the first season - the first is what happened to Alison and the second is who is the mysterious 'A' who keeps tormenting the four friends and threatening to expose their deepest secrets? The story unfolds at a pace that keeps me interested and doesn't frustrate me. I find all of the major character's stories very interesting although there has been a couple of times when the action has veered away from the Alison storyline and featured things like Aria's parent's marital problems which I could have done without seeing.
My favourite parts of the show so far has been the flashbacks to the group dynamics when Alison was top dog. The character has some memorable lines and beautiful moments in the sun. I have also loved trying to guess the mystery of what really happened to Alison and who the bitter, twisted and possibly dangerously violent 'A' is. There has never been any minor character introduced to the show that I felt was insignificant to the Alison disappearance storyline and this means there are dozens of suspects to choose from! The writers of the show also dot the program with clues and red herrings to arouse viewers suspicions. I think this 'whodunnit' could run for a few more series, at the most, without becoming boring or annoying. At the moment I feel like the show has hours of great storytelling to come because of how well they have written the main characters AND made the minor characters fascinating too.
Pretty Little Liars is currently running into it's third series and there have been plenty of juicy reveals and plot twists to keep the drama relevant, interesting and related to the original Alison murder mystery plot. As an older fan of the show I have noticed that aside from the teen audience there are older viewers who see this as essential cult viewing. I've seen some older fans refer to this as the "replacement for Lost".
Find out more on the official websites:
In the UK:
In the US:
Pretty Little Liars is a new television series based on the Pretty Little Liars series of novels by Sara Shepard. The show premiered on the US television channel ABC in June 2010 and on Viva in the UK in October 2010.
~ The show ~
The series follows the lives of four girls; Aria, Hanna, Spencer and Emily whose best friend Alison disappears after a sleepover. One year later the girls, who are no longer in contact, begin receiving text messages and emails from someone called "A" who taunts them with the secrets that they thought only Ali knew. The girls begin to wonder whether Ali is dead as presumed as their old secrets rear their heads and the girls start to question who they can trust.
When Jenna and Toby Cavanaugh return to school after an extended absence, we find out that the girls are hiding one terrible secret, something they swore to take to the grave. The girls were responsible for an accident which caused Jenna to go blind - something that Jenna's brother Toby had taken the blame for. The girls suspect that Jenna might be behind the "A" messages, especially when they find out that Ali and Jenna were closer friends than they ever knew. Even worse, after further revelations about Ali's past they suspect that Toby might be Ali's killer.
~ Characters and storylines ~
Aria Montgomery (Lucy Hale) moves back to Rosewood with her mother Ella, father Byron, and younger brother Mike after a year living in Iceland. Aria and Ali found out that Byron was having an affair with a younger woman before they moved abroad; something Aria has been able to keep quiet until "A" reveals it to her mother. Aria starts dating an older guy over the summer and on her return to school finds out that he is her new English professor. When Aria's secrets start to become common knowledge, she and the other girls decide to find out who "A" is and why he or she wants to hurt them. Lucy Hale is the most well known of the young actresses and I feel she has been given the lead role in the series, despite Aria being the boring character in the books!
Spencer Hastings (Troian Bellisario) is an intelligent over-achiever whose family put pressure on her to be as successful as her sister Melissa. Spencer has fallen for Melissa's fiancé and also kissed Melissa's ex boyfriend Ian, who we find out was in a secret relationship with Ali before her disappearance. All secrets that she thought no one knew until "A" starts to reveal them.
Hanna Marin (Ashley Benson) is now the most popular girl at Rosewood Day after Alison's disappearance. Previously an overeater worried about her weight, she now rules the school with her fashionable clothes and group of minions and shoplifts for attention from her absent father. Her old insecurities come out when she starts to doubt her relationship with Sean, a popular football player and also through revelations made by "A". Hanna's relationship with her new best friend Mona also starts to deteriorate as Hanna becomes closer to her old friends.
Emily Fields (Shay Mitchell) is a champion swimmer with a popular boyfriend. Emily begins to doubt her sexuality as she befriends Maya, a new girl at school who has moved into Ali's house. Emily also becomes friends with Toby Cavanaugh, who she realises she has a lot in common with. However, when her friends find out details which link him to Ali's disappearance she starts to doubt him which leads to disaster.
Alison (Ali) DiLaurentis (Sasha Pieterse) was the former leader of the clique. Ali went missing at a sleepover at Spencer's and a year later, her disappearance is still unsolved. Ali appears throughout the series in flashbacks, normally through her friends' memories, as a bully. Since her disappearance, revelations about Ali's life have arisen, including her relationship with an older guy and mysteries about her family life which have led her old friends to dig deeper.
~ Does the show stay true to the books? ~
I find that the girls' relationship is very different in the show to how it was in the books. The books portray them as 4 individuals who never really cared about each other and were just 'put together' by Ali to form a clique. When "A" starts harassing them they come together to work out who it is, but never as close friends, especially Hanna who prioritises her other friends above them throughout the books. However, in the show, they seem much closer. It could just be good acting or good on-screen chemistry but their relationship is much friendlier.
The girls are also much more personable and likeable on the show, especially Hanna who is portrayed in the novels as a popular girl who only cares about clothes and boys. She is actually my favourite character in the TV series. I'm not sure if Ashley Benson is just a good actress or whether it's the way they've written the character, but she is deep and seems to care about her friends more than the material things she likes in the books.
Aria's family are quite significant characters in the show, where they play less of a part in the books. Ella (Aria's mum) is played by Holly Marie Combs (of 'Charmed' fame) and I wonder if they have made the character more important to accommodate the actress?
~ What I like about it ~
I have read all 8 books and really liked them even though they are targeted at young teenagers. However, I find that the television show is aimed at a slightly older audience, with good acting and real suspense and mystery. The books could be very cheesy and some of the interesting parts are glossed over very quickly without much chance to develop. It's very rare that I prefer a TV series or movie to the original books but in this case I have to say, it's much better!
I love that they have been able to take the mystery from the books and make it into a believable story for TV. They have been able to amplify the suspense and really scare the audience. I watched most of the episodes by myself in my parent's old dark house at night and scared myself silly! There is one particular scene where the girls enter Spencer's house to find that it has been ransacked and there is a message on her mirror in red lipstick 'It's not that easy, bi**hes'. Later they receive a message with a video attachment showing that "A" was filming them from inside Spencer's wardrobe when they found the message. I was TERRIFIED! I had to check all the wardrobes before I went to sleep!
I certainly couldn't end the review without talking about the theme tune! It is dark, and actually very scary! An eerie voice sings 'Got a secret, can you keep it? Swear this one you'll save. Better lock it in your pocket, taking this one to the grave. If I show you then I know you won't tell what I said. Cause two can keep a secret if one of them is dead...'
The song is called Secret by The Pierces and is certainly appropriate for the show. The title sequence shows a doll (who looks very similar to Ali) being dressed up in clothes and make up and placed into a coffin while the girls look on. It's an excellent opening to the show and something that grabs the audience's attention and would make them continue to watch.
~ Overall ~
After a day at work and a horrendous tube journey, Pretty Little Liars is the ideal TV show to escape reality. It's simple enough to just sit back and enjoy without thinking too much, but at the same time it captures the imagination and you feel involved with the characters. In all honesty, this show does not have mass appeal (my dad would hate it, my boyfriend puts headphones in when it's on) and really caters to teenage tastes with all the typical growing up issues (hopefully without the murders and stalkers). I hate to make statements like this but I think it's also more for females, especially when all the main characters are teenage girls. However, it is still a great show and I'm going to rate it 4/5. I've a feeling it will be snapped up by a bigger channel soon and will become quite popular!
There have only been 10 episodes of Pretty Little Liars so far with 12 more scheduled to be shown from January 2011. Personally, I can't wait!
(Also on Ciao under the same name)