Making the world a better place, one show at a time.

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I guess you would like to know a little bit about the person making all these proclamations upon good taste and horrid characters. I'm Andrea and when I was 15 I fell in love. An hour after meeting "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" I was forever altered in the way only love can, and I never questioned for one minute afterwards that television offered me an amazing chance to experience lives and moments that I could never imagine. So now, when I'm not getting distracted by my real life, I write about TV. I also read, am finishing a Master's degree in English Literature, travel, am attempting to learn vegan cooking, am the 5th of 6 children, and drive my roommate nuts by constantly cleaning our already clean apartment. Now that we're old friends, time for you to take my opinions as the be all and end all.

Monday, May 2, 2011

My Weekend Fling: Pretty Little Liars, Season 1

(I feel that I should preface what I'm about to say with: remember that I watched all 22 episodes of this show.)

I think my insomnia is starting to rot my brain, because Saturday night when I couldn't sleep I just kept watching episode after episode of Pretty Little Liars, and as the sun rose in the morning sky I realized that I didn't think the show had been utterly terrible.  How sad.

At a slumber party 15 year old Alison (Sasha Pieterse) goes missing, fracturing the bonds between longtime friends Spencer (Torian Bellisario), Hanna (Ashley Benson), Aria (Lucy Hale) and Emily (Shay Mitchell).  A year later, Alison's body is discovered, reuniting the girls, but the identity of her murderer is only one of the many secrets in Rosewood, PA. While Spencer tries to manage the expectations of her overly ambitious family, Aria tries to hid her sexual relationship with her English teacher from her parents that are splitting up because of her father's infidelity, Emily tries to come to terms with her sexual orientation, and Hanna tries to counterbalance her mother's indiscretions without sucuming to an eating disorder, all four girls are harassed by "A": a shadow deterimined to expose their flaws and wrongdoings at the same time as leading them to Alison's killer.

Honestly, for the most part PLL is over-the-top, verging on the completely ridiculous, but it's fairly enjoyable.  That is, if you can get over a few things.

First, there is the fact that, with notable exceptions, the vast majority of males in this fictional town are either dead-eyed sociopaths, dead-eyed sexual predators, or both.  (And the actors all seem to have trouble making facial expressions. It's very annoying for a while, then it just becomes funny.)  I'm not kidding, there is a serious problem with the men in this town understanding what is an acceptable age gap between partners, and since they are ALWAYS the older parties, that where I'm putting the emphasis: Ezra Fitz, a recent college graduate, pursues a relationship with Aria, his sixteen year old student; Spencer becomes the object of desire for her older sister Melissa's past/present/future boyfriends/fiancĂ©es; Alison was dating an older mystery guy; and Aria's father has had an affair with a woman at least 20 years his junior.  The actual teenage boys that are hanging around these girls aren't a great deal better: at worst leveraging either information for power (Noel) or useful skills for money (Caleb); at best greedily absorbing attention while repaying it with scorn (Sean).  There is the possibility that this show is a brilliant evisceration of female vulnerability, but...well maybe.  Probably not.

And the above is a huge part of the second serious detraction in PLL.  The giant gaping black hole of suck in this show is Aria and everything having to do with her: her icktastic boyfriend, her oblivious parents, her wardrobe.  Of the four girls, Aria is simply the least interesting.  Obviously intended to be the most "free-spirited" and "artistic" of the group, Aria doesn't seem to have any particular skills, talents, or activities.  It's offhandedly mentioned once that she reads books aside for the ones she's assigned and she's "really excited about fiction" but that's about it.  While Spencer, Hanna and Emily all participate in at least one sport or club activity (and are seen at some point or another doing homework), Aria pretty much goes to school for the sole purpose of flirting with her teacher, goes home to lecture her younger brother, and goes then goes to Ezra's apartment to cook.  From what what we see, she doesn't do, create, or think much of anything.  Her utter lack of personality, or basic connection to reality, is perfectly matched in her equally vacuous "boyfriend."  Mr. Fitz, who never seems to grade homework or need to make lesson plans despite being a first year teacher, is supposedly a talented writer but since we only hear snippets of what he's written we have to take that on the authority of Aria or her father (because they have such trustworthy judgement).  And that is the extent of his character: likes underage girls and writes.  I know I sound like I'm harping on the Aria/Ezra relationship, but it takes up a significant portion of every episode, so I am only bitching in proportion to how much they subjected me to it.  These two literally have the exact same conversation at least 22 times (once an episode) if not more. Here it is:

One: I hate that sneaking around is so difficult because you are the most amazing person I've ever met.
The Other: I agree.  But this is very difficult.
One: I don't want to give up on us.
The Other: Me either, but what about the necessity of having coffee in public with your significant other?
One: I don't need coffee in public, as long as I have dinner in secret with you.
The Other: You're the best.

If it weren't bad enough to watch two boring people, having to listen to them say the same thing over and over and over again is like Chinese water torture.  If you are going to assert the normalcy of a legally and ethically inappropriate relationship, it helps if the viewer  doesn't want to slip into a coma every time either character is on screen.  (PLL show runners, please see Chris and Angie from Skins UK Series 1 for a student/teacher relationship that was equally as inappropriate but was dramatically and emotionally engrossing TV.)

How lame Aria is stands out because the other girls are appealing and entertaining characters.

Star scholar and well-rounded college applicant Spencer is ambitious, competitive, suspicious, prickly, and combative.  But she is also funny, loyal, and she is the driving force behind trying to discover Alison's killer.  She's unofficially the leader, but she doesn't manipulate the other girls, as numerous flashbacks clearly demonstrate that Alison did when she was queen.  She doesn't want to live resentfully in the shadow of her older sister's achievements, and she does the best she can in the face of Melissa's staggering megalomania.  Spencer's eventual relationship with stoic neighbor, and initial suspect in Alison's murder, Toby has a faint similarity to the greatness that was Veronica Mars and Logan Echolls, at least in part because their first kiss is also in a motel parking lot.  (Although, in comparison, Toby's familial circumstances makes the Echolls family look well-adjusted and functional.)

Swimming phenomenon Emily struggles to be honest with herself and eventually everyone else about being gay without a great deal of angst or self-loathing.  She is fearful of the changes her honesty could mean for her life, but when the time comes to tell her father she does so in a brave and straightforward manner.  Emily is unfailingly forgiving, determined to give everyone a second chance.  Emily is shy, and therefore not often the instigator of events and sometimes needs a nudge to move out of her comfort zone, but she isn't a doormat either.  She stands up for herself and her opinions patiently and respectfully.  Emily is a great example of treat-people-how-you-want-to-be-treated.

Recently minted It-Girl Hanna is the opposite of your typical bitchy popular girl.  Hanna fluctuates between rebellious outburst, like high-end shoplifting, and having to provide stability and support to her mother, who makes really really poor life choices.  Hanna was previously the chubby girl of the group and often on the receiving end of Alison's venom, but instead of becoming the likeness of her antagonizer, Hanna is kind and generous to a fault: she befriends outcasts, attends abstinence-group meetings with her boyfriend to understand his viewpoint even though she wants to have sex, and lends a  couch to the teen homeless.  Granted, these things usually don't work out in her favor, but when Hanna finally looses her cool with people abusing her amity it is one of the best moments all season.

The real strength of this show is the pacing.  Much like The Vampire Diaries, they pack a lot into each hour of  PLL.  A doesn't really take a day off, relentlessly airing secrets, divulging tidbits of evidence and setting traps for the girls.  We move along for shocking-reveal to unforeseen-plot-development at a fairly brisk pace, thereby minimizing emoting time and avoiding beating every storyline (completely) to death.  The viewer is encouraged in watching the next episode, because we know that something will happen even if it won't necessarily be the answer to our questions.  Now, the season finale revealed Alison's murderer, but the case is far from closed, we still don't know who A is, and they have opened the door for the whole situation being much bigger than we thought, so you could say that we ended up with more questions than answers, but if next season continues in the same vein, we should know something more pretty quickly.

Wait, did I just admit that I intend to watch the next season?

Well, I do kind of want to know what Jenna, the blind girl with an ax to grind, is up to.

The TV Girl

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