I have a rule.
When I watch something for the first time, be it animated or a live TV show, I will give it one episode of my time. No more. No less (unless it’s making my brain twitch in agony, as chickflicks often do). If they manage to hook me, or at least refrain from annoying me, then I will continue to the next episode.
When Pretty Little Liars premiered, I did not watch it. I did not watch a single episode for several seasons. I was fairly certain it would not appeal to me. Then I saw a bunch of clips on YouTube of these cute little moments of humor, so I thought about it, and then I finally relented, in accordance with my rule, and watched episode one.
I want those forty minutes back.
Yes, there’s a murder mystery, but we already know that lasts for several season, and likely the whole of the show, so it was not particularly intriguing. I simply don’t care about it, not enough to keep watching it. And that sums up everything I felt about the show, particularly the main characters.
Brief summary: we have four main girls here, a quartet of sixteen-year-olds in high school, named Aria, Spencer, Hanna, and Emily. In the first episode:
Aria has a one-time fling in a pub with an older man, who believes she’s a college student, and therefore legal. Aria purposefully withholds the truth of her jail bait age and has sex with him within minutes of their first meeting. Then it turns out he’s a new teacher at her school, and she’s one of his students. She expresses nothing like an apology for her lie of omission, and she does express further interest in him, which he refuses because he’s a law-abiding man with half a brain. Or at least he is until they meet again at a funeral, where he apologizes for being a jerk (somehow “jerk” was not the word I’d have used to describe his gentle, but firm, rejection of her interest) and kisses her. An underage girl. Who is his student. At a funeral. Eww.
Spencer was one I had high hopes for enjoying, as she seemed to be the witty one of the group. Alas, she falls far short of my expectations. For one thing, she and her sister are apparently obsessed with outdoing each other, including when said sister screws Spencer over for fun, and Spencer, no older than Aria, displays interest in the fiance said sister is living with. This is not an isolated thing, either, as Spencer has kissed at least one of her sister’s boyfriends (so hard to see why he’s now an ex-boyfriend). Oh, and the fiance is apparently interested as well. In his fiance’s underage sister. Again: eww.
Hanna is a spoiled brat who supports Spencer’s eye-candy competition with her sister, and engages in recreational shoplifting. When she gets caught on camera, a police detective comes a-calling. But her mother makes it go away by taking said detective to her bed. Apparently, they thought having all of their female leads engaging in taboo affairs directly might not fly, so this time they have the parent doing it. To help her daughter wriggle free from the just consequences of breaking the law.
Emily feels repressed and trapped her small hometown. She meets the new girl on the block, who immediately introduces her to marijuana. Emily has no problems with “being corrupted,” and forms a friendship with the new girl, which is rapidly developing in the direction of a lesbian affair. But hey, at least both parties are the same age this time! Not sure what’s more distressing, the introduction to drugs or the fact that this relationship is unique in having both parties be of equal age.
So Aria lies and has sex with an older man which could send him to jail, then pursues a full-fledged affair with the man when he turns out to be her teacher, even making out at a funeral. While Spencer tries to attract her sister’s fiance, and he reciprocates. Hanna learns that she can do anything she likes and if she gets caught then she can avoid the consequences either by having sex or by her mother having sex. And Emily becomes a pot-head.
Small wonder these four found their ringleader in Alison, a girl who was spiteful and manipulative. Small surprise Alison was murdered. Oh, and all of these girls hold a secret pertaining to one of the peers suffering a terrible injury and being blinded. Which they keep, of course. More avoidance of just consequences.
And these are the good guys? The role models? Couldn’t they have even one upstanding character among the lot?
When I finished episode one of Pretty Little Liars, I found myself with a profound lack of sympathy for any of these characters. I just did not care about any of them. We have a murder mystery, for crying out loud! Compounded by our four girls receiving written messages from the apparently-dead girl, despite how they have a positively identified corpse to show, and I do not care! Their secrets are on the verge of being revealed, and I do not care. I don’t care about them, I don’t care what happens to them. Certainly not enough to invest my time watching episode two, let alone several seasons.
In short: if you should happen to come across some tiny clip somewhere that makes you think, “oh, this might be an entertaining show to watch, after all,” I have only one thing to say: don’t do it.