At first glance, the ABC teen drama series Pretty Little Liars offers limited redeeming value to viewers outside the targeted audience of women aged 12-34 besides the obvious guilty pleasures. However, as the show’s characters develop through secretes revealed in the shadows of dramatic intrigue, this show has become anything but teenage child’s play.
Where Pretty Little Liars succeeds in a unique fashion is drawing the audience into the intimate world of the mean girl clique at Rosewood High School. Centered around four friends; Aria, Emily, Hannah, and Spencer, who had separated since the murder of their best friend Allison. The mystery begins when they are reunited by text messages from an anonymous source “A”. At first, the friends suspect that the text messages come from Allison’s murderer, as it was noted that she received similar messages before her disappearance, but it becomes clear once Allison is revealed to still be alive that there is more under the surface.
The twists and turns that follow in effect play out like a detective series, with each new tidbit of information trickled out in a manner that makes the viewer question the credibility of the source. The beauty of these girls goes beyond skin deep, as they are far more than one-dimensional valley girl types vying for popularity. At times they are nice, supportive, and generous, which goes against the vindictive or judgmental stereotype one might expect from their personalities. The show is authentic in this way, as they lean upon their friends in times of need, instead of attempting to portray the same tired moral of being an individual.
Below the surface, each has their skeletons; affairs with teachers, lying (obviously), stealing compulsively and sabotaging others relationships. The most intriguing aspect of Pretty Little Liars is how these skeletons are brought about through the device of the seemingly omniscient “A” text messaging, mocking their past and present transgressions.
In a sense, the text messages from “A” could be coming from beyond the grave, and until the audience is undoubtedly told otherwise this is the most realistic explanation. The vengeance sought is not unlike that of Richard III on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth, as Richard is visited by the ghosts of all those whom he murdered in a thirst for power. The ghosts promise vengeance and leave the young king in a fragile state. Richard’s haunted past does get the better of him as he is killed on the battlefield, leaving the audience to question if the ghosts were truly influencing this world from beyond, or whether Richard lost his confidence due to the premonition in his own dreams.
There are many illusions towards the supernatural in Pretty Little Liars. During a Halloween episode, there was a creepy girl dressed in a white gown lurking in the Marin household, saying, “My sister is always telling lies, getting me in trouble.” Most recently the audience has been left wondering about Jason’s childhood imaginary friend, Charles. Could he have been the boy Aria saw in the photograph? Viewers will have to wait to find out.
The premise remains that the darkness of the past will eventually find its way to light. These girls certainly have a lot to answer for as the audience waits patiently for the skeletons to come out of the closet. As the story and characters develop in complexity, it will be increasingly difficult to determine how authentic which character is telling the truth, and who will be haunted by a history of lies.
by Frederick Bates
Edited by Chanel van der Woodsen
Wetpaint: Pretty Little Liars Burning Question
MTV: Who is Charles?
Atlantic: How Pretty Little Liars Redeems the Pop-Culture Mean Girl
Photo courtesy of Jenn Sterling’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License