This review contains minor spoilers.
Pretty Little Liars chronicles the lives of four girls whose friend and glue of the group, Allison, has gone missing. A mysterious cyber-stalker creatively named A emerges in order to harass them and the girls proceed use their lying powers to dig themselves into and out of very deep holes over and over again throughout the first two seasons.
While not pure fantasy in the vein of The Vampire Diaries, the attitudes and actions of the characters lack the semblance of reality that even most Soap Operas manage to capture, ending up with a dreamlike version of teenage life, never quite making sense and obeying the laws of reality.
From the artificial zoom in the opening of that creates a jump cut with Aria’s head it is clear that Pretty Little Liars is not going to be a directorial master class. There are times when dramatic incremental digital zooms are cartoonish and hilarious. The ridiculous ways some scenes are shot turns serious events into comedy. For example, when Hannah is hit by a car the camera work is reminiscent of a high school film project.
Highlights include the endings of each show which show the villainous A’s first-person perspective, with over acted devious gestures that are sometimes Wile-E-Coyote-esque and sometimes just perplexing. The final scenes of season two which ape Hitchcock’s Psycho in bizarrely obvious ways seem to reveal creators who are not attempting to be inventive but are also having fun.
Pretty Little Liars, particularly in the first season, moves at a breakneck pace. The show sets up plot threads that most shows would drag on for dramatic tension. It might be expected that Emily’s homosexuality could be a prolonged secret and issue with her family, but within a few episodes she is out and her family have accepted it.
Simultaneously, homosexuality is dealt with surprisingly sensitively for such a melodramatic show. Showing bullying and exclusion of gay people is important, but it is also good to just show it being accepted sometimes, and Pretty Little Liars does that. However, it is slightly odd that every gay character is a romantic interest of Emily’s.
Another thing that is odd is that all four of the girls must have bottomless closets because they never seem to wear the same thing twice. Spencer and Aria seem to be a revolving doors of strange new outfits.
As is the way with teen drama shows, liking characters is a big component, which is always subjective. The show at times portrays the characters as stupid and at others it is stupid itself, and sometimes it is somewhere in between. For example Hannah often attempts to delete electronic files by destroying the device containing them, using a blender to shred a USB stick and a sink to kill a mobile phone. On another occasion, the technologically savvy Caleb uses laughable CSI techniques on an image for detective work.
It is debatable if Pretty Little Liars qualifies as so-bad-it’s-good. On one hand it doesn’t have that loveable try hard feel of The Room where the context is of someone who is trying very hard to make a work of art. On the other hand, there is something perversely entertaining in the fact that this is a show with a budget and professionals yet it still fails dramatically. The key to the show’s entertainment value is that these failures are fun to watch and the show doesn’t feel like it is wasting time.