Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pass the (Microwave) Popcorn: Pretty Little Liars

When I got home from London nearly two weeks ago, I had to catch up. On work, weeding, laundry, grocery shopping, ten days away from the gym. Was it painful? Yes. 

Was it worth it? Of course.

When my teenage daughter got home from Spain a few days later, she had to catch up too. "On what?" you may ask. 

Summer assignments? Her disheveled room? A fitness routine? No, no, and no.

She had to catch up on Pretty Little Liars.

Pretty Little Liars is a weekly show on ABC Family (although how it constitutes "family" fare is beyond me). It's billed as a teen mystery-thriller, and it's based (loosely) on a series of YA novels by Sara Spencer. To my daughter's credit (I guess), she read all the books prior to sitting down and bingeing the series on Netflix.

Two asides: I'm actually very happy whenever my daughter picks up a book instead of her iPhone. And, I can't really criticize the bingeing thing. I myself watched the entire first season of House of Cards in a single weekend, and got through three full seasons of Call the Midwife in less than a week. The whole "on demand" thing is deadly for those of us with a predisposition to compulsive viewing.

Back to Pretty Little Liars.

ABC Family describes it this way: Rosewood is a perfect little town. So quiet and pristine, you'd never guess it holds so many secrets. Some of the ugliest ones belong to the prettiest girls in town: Aria, Spencer, Hanna and Emily, four friends whose darkest secrets have been unraveling since Alison, the Queen Bee of their group disappeared. As the mystery surrounding Ali's disappearance resurfaces, the girls begin getting messages from a mysterious “A,” who they quickly realize is out to get them. Now, after years of tormenting and numerous shocking revelations, the Liars are united and ready to kick some “A” and uncover the truth! No longer just wanting to sit by and wait for "A’s" latest cruel attack, Aria, Emily, Hanna and Spencer take matters into their own hands and try to finally put a stop to their tormentor. As relationships are put to the test, new and old secrets are revealed and the stakes are raised higher than ever before as the Liars come closer to the truth. Will all of their sacrifices be worth it in the end?

Cue ominous music: dum dum da dum.

Now in its fifth season (wow), it maintains a steady viewership of 2.5 million (and as high as 3.7 for season premieres and year-end finales), making it ABC Family's most successful program.

Critically, it's had a less positive reception. It received a D- from Entertainment Weekly, which mused "Imagine the pitch for Liars: It's I Know What You Did Last Summer meets Gossip Girl, but like not so subtle."

(Like I wish I wrote that.)

But since when do teenagers listen to authority?

Last night, my husband had to go to a black-tie business thingy (no plus-ones, bummer), so I suggested a special night for us girls. We would order in pizza and watch a movie. My daughter demurred ...

"I have to watch something in real-time at 8," she told me.

Having caught up on everything she'd missed, she wanted to watch ... you guessed it ... Pretty Little Liars. Or just PLL for those of us in the know. I asked if I could watch with her and she seemed genuinely pleased. I warned her that I wouldn't understand what was going on, but she delightedly reminded me that actually viewing something in real-time meant that there would be actual real-time commercial breaks, during which she would fill in any blanks.

And so she did. My questions went something like this ...

"Wait, which girl is that again?"
"Wait, I thought that one was dead?"
"Wait, is she a lesbian?"
"Wait, why was she in rehab?"
"Wait, is that guy she's kissing her teacher?"
"Wait, who is A?"

Mainly, I was wondering why the so-called grownups in the little town — y'know, parents, principals, police detectives — weren't more concerned about teenagers disappearing and dying. 

Frankly, I didn't understand much, but there was enough murder and mayhem to keep me interested. (Plus, I kept trying to figure out how old these supposed high school girls really were. 'Funny how Hollywood thinks nothing about shaving ten years off an actress's age to play a teen, but then ignores them completely once they reach 40. At any rate, these girls are matuuuuuure. Then again, you might be too if you'd seen everything they have. Remind me not to move to Rosewood.)

Did I love Pretty Little Liars? Ummm, no. I'm filing it away with that time I read all the Twilight books. Let's face it, I'm not the target audience. But, as long as my daughter is willing to share (and to explain, when necessary), I'm game. 

And, maybe PLL puts things in perspective. After all, I sometimes watch 24 when I'm feeling stressed. A day in the life of Jack Bauer makes my own life look pretty cushy. (No matter how tight my deadlines are, at least I get bathroom breaks.) 

The next time I reflect on all my daughter's teen drama, I'll remind myself that things could be a lot more ... dramatic. Dum dum da dum.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at 

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