“Two can keep a secret…if one of them is Dead!”…An analysis of “Pretty Little Liars”

I would describe ABC’s “Pretty Little Liars” (2010-present) as unique in comparison to the majority of TV shows I’ve actually watched, it is most definitely addictive and very intriguing. I came across the show purely on accident, simply wanted to watch something new and selected the first show that came up and I’m really glad it was this one, I do think its very underrated at the moment and hope more and more people will start watching it. “Pretty Little Liars” is based on a series of books written by Sara Shepard which I have yet to read, but must get round to. I love TV shows and films that reflect the themes of the dark side of Suburbia and things aren’t always what they seem, “Pretty Little Liars” consists of this as well as the look of the show being “glamorous” and “glossy”, meaning the look and the tone greatly contrast each other. The plot of the show revolves around four, middle class, “superficial-on-the surface” teenage girls, Aria (Lucy Hale), Spencer (Troian Bellisaro), Hanna (Ashley Benson) and Emily (Shay Mitchell), it could be argued that the main characters fit into the stereotype of bitchy, popular, prom Queen’s etc. that are found in films such as “Mean Girls” (2004) or how the character of Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) was initially introduced in “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” (1997-2003), however this is not the case, what I enjoyed about this show was it challenged my expectations and demonstrated that the characters have more to them than meets the eye and are not the shallow stereotype we assume they are, their characters have a conscience and appear as more human, if this element was taken out of the series it wouldn’t be so interesting; I’m going to discuss the character of Emily in this instance, for the first time in a television series that I can personally remember there hasn’t been a  character that challenges the lesbian stereotype to this degree, as previously stated, Emily is popular and attractive and meets these expectations, however at the beginning of the series she is struggling with her sexuality, this gives the character and the series much more depth; another example I would use is Hannah’s character, she wasn’t initially involved in the popular crowed but changed her appearance, through losing weight in order to fit in, throughout the series the insecurities of her past do come into light but she also doesn’t let her popularity get to her head as she befriends other characters such as Caleb (Tyler Blackburn) who would be considered far from the circle of wealth and social status that Hanna is part of, she displays acts of kindness towards him e.g. letting him stay at her house when it is discovered he is homeless “Je Suis Un Amie” (#1.16).

The basic premise of “Pretty Little Liars” could be viewed as a statement linking in with today’s obsession with celebrity culture, the idea of constantly being watched. Aria, Spencer, Emily and Hanna are bound together because of one person, the enigma that is Alison. Alison is considered to be the leader of their clique she has however disappeared at the beginning of the pilot (#1.1), by the end of the episode we discover Alison’s body has been found and that she has indeed been murdered. During these events each of the girls receive text messages off an anonymous number, presenting themselves as simply “A”, the only person who knew all their secrets was Alison but so does the mystery caller, the question becomes who is “A”? how do they know their darkest secrets? and what really did happen to Alison? These questions set up the show’s intrigue. The programme is definitely modern and I like the clever use of these girls being stalked through texting and over the internet, depicting how we expose ourselves a lot more in society today with these tools and how gaining information on people is much simpler nowadays.

Alison played by Sasha Pieterse

I think its clever how “Pretty Little Liars” creates mystery and suspense in regards to its characters, the audience doesn’t know which character should be trusted and which ones should not. Things are not always what they seem, overly suspicious characters such as Toby (played by Keegan Allen) and Jenna (played by Tammin Sursok) seem to have solid motives for wanting to murder Alison and stalk the girls, especially as they all got away with causing Jenna’s blindness through a dangerous accident; however it is then suggested that these characters are thrown in as a red herring for the audience and become too obvious, Toby needs to be in the frame as a scapegoat for the real culprit. The character of the English teacher Ezra Fitz ( played by Ian Harding) is portrayed as less suspicious in comparison to Toby or Jenna, is is evident that he is the type of character who would take risks especially as he has continued an affair with his pupil Aria, there is always the concept that he is maybe doing this to get closer to the girls, this currently seems very unlikely though as his character motivations suggest otherwise. As the series progresses the audience discover more of the mystery regarding the girls relationships with Alison, shown through a series of flashbacks, which definitely highlight to the audience the manipulative and cruel nature of Alison. Spencer is the put-upon younger sister, she is forced to live up to her intelligent, successful sister Melissa (played by Torrey DeVito) on a constant basis, Spencer could be considered the less likeable character of the clique as she is very manipulative in order to get what she wants, she rebels by stealing her sister’s fiance’s not once but twice and also steals her sister’s essay and takes credit for it by winning an academic award, suggesting she is perhaps trying to become just like her deceased friend, but it could also be argued each of the girls have their own trait of Alison, e.g. with Hanna being the most like her in terms of appearance. Eventually Spencer does become prime suspect number one in Alison’s murder case in the episode “Someone to watch over me” (#1.20), if this were the case it would be an interesting plot twist to have one of the main protagonists to be the culprit. We learn that “A” and the killer are not necessarily the same person, the girls begin to suspect Ian (played by Ryan Merriman), Spencer’s sister’s husband, once its revealed that he had relations with Alison and is featured on a video of her death. This plot sets up the classic case of no one believes them, with only the audience on their side. By the last episode “For Whom the Bell tolls” (#1.22) it is revealed that Ian was Alison’s killer and in a strange twist of fate the mysterious “A” saves the girls and kills him, surprising the audience and then getting us to re-evaluate everything we thought we already knew, along with the girls remaining unsure as to whether it was really Ian that caused their friend’s death. “A” hasn’t given up on playing games though, by the end of the series, Ian’s body has vanished and “A” contacts them to inform them its not over yet, paving the way for a second season. While watching the final episode I made the assumption that everything was going to be revealed and it would only last for twenty-two episodes, so the fact that the show has been dragged out for another season just heightens the excitement and makes us wonder will we ever know the truth?

 This brings me to last Tuesday’s premiere season two episode “Its Alive” (#2.1). I will warn you now, this is an overview of the episode and spoilers are included. Immediately I liked how the episode picked up right from where the last one left off, rather then jumping ahead in time, here and now is where the action is and as an audience we need to get right back into it. This was a similar effect used with the film “Halloween 2” (1981) and I have noticed the rarity of this being used in a television series, there are normally time jumps used e.g. “One Tree Hill” (2003-present) has a fourteen month time gap between its sixth and seventh seasons. Ian is still not the main suspect as far as the police are concerned and the attention has turned to all four girls, it is believed by their parents that they are struggling to come to terms with Alison’s death and the fact they think that Ian did it is viewed as “obsession”. Aria is put on edge by the return of Noel Khan (played by Brant Daughetry) the popular jock she romantically rejected in favour of her affair with Ezra Fitz, Noel knows her secret and is prepared to give herself and Ezra hell for it, but it remains to be seen if he will reveal all to the school. Emily is struggling with the fact she has to move our of Rosewood for a whole year to be closer to her soldier father, this is not helped by a retailer invading her room literally asking her to erase all her memories on behalf of the new tenants. Spencer’s family is still extremely suspicious of her and are dealing with the fact Ian has gone “missing” without a trace, it is indicated through Melissa’s eyes how much blame she lays on Spencer, she is also forced to stay away from Toby, the only person who seems to understand her.  The girls are sent to a grief counsellor where they admit they are only bonded by Alison but remain cagey when the counsellor asks them why do they still appear as close friends, Aria is about to relieve their burden regarding “A” they are however interrupted and leave the session, they then come across a newspaper article suggesting Ian took money out of his bank account and his car was found by the train station; it is implied the girls fabricated a story as they knew he was leaving. Caleb has come back in order to make amends with Hanna, realising her so-called friend Mona (played by Janel Parrish) failed to give her the apologetic letter he had written for her, for Hanna it changes nothing, she is unable to forgive how he was spying on her on Jenna’s behalf from the beginning of their relationship. Hanna goes to confront Mona who admits she believed she was only protecting her from being hurt, Hanna dissolves their friendship at this moment saying it hurts more than what Caleb did, Mona is then seen to be on a date with Noel, and so the tangled web continues. Melissa starts to question Spencer’s allegations about Ian saying she does not believe the police’s theories. Ezra suggests he was still in love with his ex when he first started seeing Aria but gives her his confidence that he is on her side no matter what and like Melissa disregards the police’s theories. Aria is then startled as “A” texts her with an image of Ezra’s apartment with the question of “what’s missing?” she realises the key under his mat is no longer there. For Emily enough is enough and the girls contemplate telling the therapist what’s been going on in order to prevent another funeral occurring. As they are about to relieve their burden to the therapist they notice a certificate with Ezra Fitz’s name blatantly on it, adding yet another surprising twist, “A” stole it from Ezra’s apartment and is aware of their every move, including the safe haven of therapy. Aria’s parents inform her that the therapist doesn’t think its healthy or beneficial for the girls to remain friends at the moment and would be better if they spend time apart. Aria is completely livid, this however keeps the show interesting, leaving the audience wonder how they will cope without each other’s support and could this lead to much more being revealed? The episode climax’s with the therapist being followed and Spencer discovering a text on Melissa’s phone, potentially from Ian, is he still alive? and if so, how? The ending segment which has stuck to its season one formula shows who we presume is “A” viewing Emily’s house and deleting her laptop’s hard drive, removing evidence!

And there we have it, my analysis of “Pretty Little Liars”; I definitely recommend this clever, suspenseful teen drama, it places itself within several genres e.g. mystery, thriller, romance, it has something for everyone and I love how they are keeping the twists and turns interesting, maybe we will never discover who “A” is, hopefully not for a while because this is my new favourite American TV show of the moment and I don’t want it to end prematurely. Catch the second episode of Season Two “The Goodbye Look” (#2.2) on Tuesday on ABC, or on vureel.com (as I do through living in the UK), I can’t wait!

Hayley A. Roberts 😉

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