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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Pretty Little Liars: "It's Alive"

Illustration for article titled iPretty Little Liars/i: Its Alive
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I’m not sure if it’s the perfectly spaced scheduling or the perfectly glacial storytelling pace of the main mystery, but Pretty Little Liars kind of feels like it’s been on the air forever. So much so that when I heard season two was about to start I had two main reactions: Ugh, already? And…only season two?

Part of this can definitely be attributed to ABC Family’s split season scheduling, where they traditionally air their series in two distinct programming chunks and call it one season of narrative. This is an extremely savvy programming move, especially when you don’t have an abundance of original series to slot throughout the year. Fans get what feels like two distinct seasons, and ABC Family gets more bang for their literal buck. In the case of Pretty Little Liars, this perceived ubiquity has done wonders for its buzz factor. Any quibbles about its quality (or lack thereof) aside – this show definitely has buzz. But the other part making it feel so stale – the storytelling part – is more troubling.

While the season one finale was focused on big action set pieces and churning through a tremendous amount of plot, season two enters with a bit more grace. Because the premiere picks up the second the finale left off, the hour is focused on Ian’s disappearance and the girls’ assertion he is not missing, but dead. The “liars” part of the title finally seems to take on meaning, as everyone in the town – including their own parents and the front page story of the local paper – believes their story to be false. The parental concern leads to a request the girls attend therapy, which would be a perfectly reasonable idea if it wasn’t group therapy. What group of teenage girls accused of being delusional would be therapeutically allowed to attend sessions together?

Just when the girls realize they can use the protection of therapist privilege to finally tell an outsider about A’s shenanigans, A swoops right in and lets them know they are always being watched, even in therapy. Listen, in my season one finale piece on the show I harped on the fact that the central mystery of A makes absolutely no sense, and this episode did nothing to alleviate my concerns. A still does at least three things technically not possible for a human being to pull off, and at this point it might be easier to enjoy the show by pretending A is not an actual human, but some sort of omniscient gamemaster, and the girls are his little chess pieces. If you think about it on that level, and not worry about logic, it actually might return to being the decently fun little romp it was last summer.

Still, the show takes A seriously so we must begrudgingly follow suit, which is especially frustrating when A manages to do things like erase Emily’s hard drive (containing the hilariously disgusting videos of Jenna forcing her stepbrother to have sex with her) while on a tour of Shay’s newly for sale house. You would think Emily would have better password protection on the only copy of one of the most important pieces of evidence they believe to have against Ian (who they still believe killed A, mind you). Moments like this, when the characters do things so incredibly stupid, really highlight some of the storytelling issues with the mystery aspect of the show, and end up seeming more like a stalling tactic to continue to keep A’s identity a secret than anything else.

Beyond their dalliances with the all-powerful A, much of the hour focused on the girls, their relationship with each other, and their relationships with the men in their lives, all of which were generally handled well. Toby and Spencer, now relegated to star-crossed lovers due to concerns from both of their families about what gossip them being seen together might bring, meet in secret and are pleasant enough. Aria finally realizes Ezra might not be the perfect prince she built him up to be in her mind, and still hasn’t forgiven him for not telling her about his wife. And, most touchingly and satisfyingly, Caleb comes back and apologizes to Hanna for using her, but she stands up for herself and refuses to take him back. It’s nice to see a teenage girl have some standards for herself, and even though I fully expect them to be back together by the end of the season it was still great to see.

It all ends with the girls discovering yet another piece to the puzzle. Ian’s car was found at the train station and his bank account drained, and even Melissa now believes he isn’t on the run because he would never willingly leave her. Things seem even more suspicious when Spencer sees a text on Melissa’s phone from a blocked number that sounds like it comes from Ian, and when he reveals something only he should know they are sure he is alive and somehow in cahoots in the conspiracy with Melissa. Here’s my problem with this: it could just be A. A knows everything! A is everywhere! Why wouldn’t it be A? A is the answer to any question this show ever asks, so at some point it just all feels like a shell game.

After reviewing both the season one finale and season two premiere, it’s pretty obvious to me this show is perfectly happy to be telling the stories they are telling, in exactly the way they are telling them. There’s nothing wrong with aiming for the middle, I suppose, but as someone who honestly enjoys a few aspects of the show but sees the potential for it to be more, it’s discouraging. Still, it’s hard to argue this isn’t perfectly acceptable disposable summer viewing, and a moderately fun way to spend an hour (as long as you can switch off the nagging “logic” portion of your brain). Instead of aiming for the middle, what I would really love for them to do is abandon any hope of being a realistic show and fully embrace the insanity of their underlying premise and go full-on camp. Now that would be something I would be interested in watching.

Stray observations:

  • So, can Jenna see or what? Otherwise, her lurking in the shadows 30 yards away from a conversation yet somehow observing and reacting to it MAKES NO SENSE.
  • Noel’s back and he’s randomly dating Mona now. Why has Noel become a totally evil mustache twirler again? And why does Mona exist, other than to show that the girls talk to people besides each other?
  • Did Ezra have to do the entire heart-to-heart scene without a shirt? I feel dirty.
  • Also, if you’re weirded out by your boyfriend having a Playboy, perhaps you aren’t old enough to be dating an older man. Or any man.

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