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Review – Pretty Little Liars

June 21, 2010

Pretty Little Liars – ABC Family – 8:00/7:00pm Tuesday – USA

Since about 2006 American cable network ABC Family has been specializing in shows aimed at teenage girls. Shows like their mega-smash success The Secret Life Of The American Teenager which regularly out-rates Gossip Girl, even though Gossip Girl is on free-to-air network The CW. ABC Family dramas tend to be less flashy than their trashy CW counter-parts, this is partly due to their lower budgets, but also because ABC Family tends to harken back to teen dramas like Dawson’s Creek and Gilmore Girls that didn’t rely on quick cuts, blaring pop songs and pimped out wardrobes to sell their stories.

Pretty Little Liars is the latest in the long series of ‘teenage girls do things’ dramas that ABC Family holds dear. This time around the ‘thing’ that these aforementioned teenage girls do is ‘have secrets’. The pilot episode opens with a pop song, a thunderstorm, and a cabin in the middle of nowhere. In this cabin are four young ladies each standing in for easily identifiable stereotypes. There’s the lead, every-girl, Aria (Lucy Hale from Privileged), there’s the smart girl Spencer (yes, so far the characters are named Aria and Spencer…), blonde bitchy girl Hanna and sporty girl with lesbian tendencies Emily. On this dark and stormy night their other friend Allison goes missing and then we cut to ONE YEAR LATER.

It’s been a year since Ally’s disappearance and that close group of four girls aren’t so close anymore. Aria and her family have just moved back into town because Aria’s parents have been having some issues. And yes, hey! It’s Holly Marie Combs from Charmed and Chad Lowe from ‘having a face that’s recognizable but you’re not quite sure from where’ playing Aria’s parents! Elsewhere in the cast we have Hey! It’s That Guy! Bryce Johnson from Popular playing Detective Wilden, and of course Australia’s very own Tammin Sursok (yes, Tammin Sursok) playing Jenna the girl who wasn’t part of the group but has secrets all of her own.

As the episode progresses we start to see each of the girl’s dirty little secrets that nobody else knows. Nobody except for the missing girl Ally, and when everybody starts getting mysterious text messages, emails and notes in their locker all signed from ‘A’, everybody starts to think something very spooky is afoot. What’s neat about Pretty Little Liars is that it’s found an intriguing premise to hang all of its teen drama onto. Of course, we’re still treated to storyline staples straight out of the teen drama playbook like jealous sisters, petty crime, student/teach relationships, adulterous parents, but at the centre of the show is a mystery that actually kind of works.

The only place Pretty Little Liars is really let down is with some of the dialogue which ranges from obvious statements like “There were five of us who used to hang out, but we don’t anymore.” To groan-worthy and vague pop-culture references like “Did you download the new Beyonce?” and “In your leisure time moments you like to Facebook and tweet.” Emily, the jocky girl, especially seems to do little more than walk around spitting exposition. Dialogue like this would get in the way on a lesser show, but Pretty Little Liars manages to rise above it, not far above it as to escape it’s kind of goofy roots, but far enough that it makes for an enjoyable hour of teen drama.

Pretty Little Liars is pleasant but predictable, a touch flawed but fun. Then again, I’m not exactly in the target demographic for a teen show aimed at women between the ages of 13 to 30 so I asked my girlfriend who loves ABC Family for the lowdown on what she thought of Pretty Little Liars. She said it’s not as good as Greek, but it is miles better than the overblown Secret Life Of The American Teenager. If she had to place it anywhere after only two episodes she’d put it alongside Make It Or Break It, the ‘teenage girls do things’ show where the teenage girls do gymnastics. So there you have it, even by demographically correct standards Pretty Little Liars is ‘Alright’.

Good, Alright, Bad Or Ugly?

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