100 Pilots in 100 Days: Pretty Little Liars

When it was originally on: 2010-2017

Original network: ABC Family (became Freeform in 2016)

Where you can stream it now: Apparently this one isn’t streamable anymore except I guess if you have DirecTV? I don’t have DirecTV so I can’t confirm this. Anyway, individual episodes are avaiable through Apple TV+, Amazon, the usual.

Had I seen it before: I remember giving this a try when it first came out (I was in high school at the time) but I didn’t stick with it. It was neither bad enough to be a fun hate watch show, nor was it good enough for me to enjoy it unironically.

What IMDb says: Four friends band together against an anonymous foe who threatens to reveal their darkest secrets, while also investigating the disappearance of their best friend.

Why I picked it: I’m not sure how many universal truths of television there are, but one of them is this: we will never run out ways to make television about murder. It’s amazing to me how some shows about murder can be super dark and intense, some of them can be teenage guilty pleasure shows, and one of them can be Riverdale which I suppose is both. Pretty Little Liars seems to be in this same vein. It’s a murder mystery show that revolves just as much around vapid teen soap opera antics as it is does around actually solving the murder. It should be interesting to compare this one to pilots for more grown-up oriented murder mysteries as well as the teen soaps that don’t have so much murder.

I also thought Pretty Little Liars was worth reevaluating because it ended up having a particularly long run for an ABC Family/Freeform show. And as I’ve aged, I’ve also softened my heart towards “chick flick” media, realizing that people who like shows like Pretty Little Liars are not stupider or shallower than people who don’t. It’s just tv, it ain’t that deep, and media made primarily for young women is not intrinsically inferior to media made primarily for other demographics. (I wrote a whole post about this very subject here, if this soap box intrigues you.) So perhaps I owe Pretty Little Liars a second chance, since my high school self thought she was too cool for such shows.

What I liked: I think this one does a really good job of establishing a lot of different tension on a lot of different fronts and yet it still feels reasonably well paced. Arya begins an illicit relationship with the teacher. She also caught her father cheating on her mother. Emily likes girls, including the new girl that moved into Allison’s house. It’s unclear how many people she’s out to, so that should be interesting. Spencer is crushing on her sister’s boyfriend, and apparently kissed one of her sister’s exes. Hanna’s mother fucked a cop to get Hanna out of a shoplifting charge. Maybe that’s going to be an ongoing thing? It’s hard to tell. Everyone in this show has a secret, and it’s implied that there’s more secrets to come.

Oh! And also their Allison goes missing for a year before her body is discovered in the backyard of the house where she used to live. That’s a thing that happens too.

This pilot throws so much shit at the wall, but yet most of it sticks. I never felt like I was uninvested in the Spencer plotline because I was curious about the Arya plotline or anything like that. The only one that’s maybe a little thin is Hanna since her shoplifting plotline seems mostly resolved by the end of the episode, but I wouldn’t say I was uninterested in scenes of Hanna. I’m intrigued to know where all these different plotlines go and how they’ll intertwine with each other. Every character’s conflict is pulling its weight.

What I didn’t like: I wish I had a better understanding for what makes our central four liars different from one another. What if there was one girl who thought the girls needed to go to the cops about the mysterious “A” that’s talking to them? What if another girl had the sort of entrepreneurial spirit of someone like Season 1 Mike from Stranger Things, eager to solve the mystery on her own regardless of what any adults or other authorities told her? Maybe another one just wants to pretend that “A” doesn’t exist and move on with her life.

If these girls have different methods of handling stress and conflict, different hopes, dreams, and ambitions that all the “A” drama is going to ruin, different ways of interacting with the world in general, we don’t get that in the pilot.

Do I want to watch Ep. 2: This pilot left me with a better impression of the show that I remember from high school. I can see why so many people got so into it. But considering that it’s not included in any of my streaming subscriptions and I would actually have to pay out of pocket to keep watching, the answer is no. It’s just not on that level.

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