For most people, being a teenager usually revolved around acne problems and youthful heartache. What people often overlook is that even teenagers have secrets that could get a person killed. That’s the premise two ABC Family shows (the popular Pretty Little Liars and The Lying Game) which followed teenagers trapped by their own secrets with interesting results.
Both shows dealt with the bonds of family, friendship and how those things weren’t often mutually exclusive. The Lying Game followed twins separated at birth. One rich and the other a poor foster kid on the run from the law. Emma Becker (Alexandra Chando) arrived in Arizona to visit her sister Sutton Mercer (Chando) after accidentally meeting on the internet. Sutton persuades Emma to switch places with her so that she could find their birth parents. This plan was supposed to last for a few days, but Sutton has disappeared for parts unknown. Emma is now stuck pretending to be someone she doesn’t really know. At least, she had Sutton’s boyfriend Ethan (Blair Redford) to keep her company and cause more trouble for her. Can Emma figure out the truth before her secret comes out?
In terms of secrets, the town of Rosewood had plenty to spare. Pretty Little Liars followed four longtime friends who dealt with the loss of their ringleader after she was brutally murdered and the secrets that bind them together as they continue to search for her real killer. They also have someone named “A” who has blackmailed them via text message and has even tried to kill one of them. Aspiring artist Aria Montgomery (Lucy Hale) returned to town just to watch her family unravel after her father’s affair and her brother’s burglary habits were revealed. She wondered if her family will survive if they find out she was involved with her former teacher Ezra Fitz (Ian Harding). Overachiever Spencer Hastings (Troian Bellisario) starts dating local bad boy Toby (Keegan Allen) and is trying to cover up the fact that she pawned her sister Melissa’s (Torrey Devitto) engagement ring. The athletic Emily (Shay Mitchell) is dealing with her sexuality after coming out as a lesbian and forging a college acceptance letter in order to stay in Rosewood. Quiet mean girl Hanna Marin (Ashley Benson) is learning to deal with her first serious relationship and accepting that her parents will never get back together. Which girl will “A” target next in an effort to sever the group’s bond once and for all?
For this Game, the show is so far off to a very good start at mixing secrets, lies and betrayal in just the first episode. The show has the perfect catalyst in the mysterious Sutton who had a lot of secrets for someone so young. It was nice to see how each one played in front of Emma’s eyes. She just didn’t have one boyfriend but two. One for her public life and one for her private life. The only difference with Liars is that Sutton is still alive while the long dead Alison (Sasha Pieterse) continues to have hidden connections to everyone in town. Pieterse gives Alison a Laura Palmer feel with a mix of Heathers thrown in. She made Alison the embodiment of a girl that everyone loved to hate. She was a cruel person in life and even crueler in memory. Pieterse seems to enjoy playing a bad girl, even if it’s only in flashbacks. Chando has the challenge of playing not one but two very different girls. Even though she mainly plays good girl Emma, she had a much greater impact playing the enigma known as Sutton who was a mean girl with substance. Chando had a unique rapport with Redford who displayed the perfect bad boy with a soul image. Hopefully, their growing bond won’t cause too much trouble down the line.
In terms of plot, Liars has plenty to spare and then some. Not only do the four main characters have secrets but their friends and family do as well. The show worked hard to balance the scenes with the girls as well as the adults. Supporting players like Holly Marie Combs, Chad Lowe and Laura Leighton were given more to do than simply being background players as the girls continued to stir up trouble. They had secrets of their own. The only regret with the adults is that Leighton and Lowe didn’t truly get an opportunity to explore a relationship between their characters. Now that would cause some drama between Aria and Hanna that “A” didn’t create. Liars attempted to test some taboos with the Toby/Jenna incest and Aria’s relationship with a more grown up Mr. Fitz. The show tried to steer clear of heading into murky waters by limiting the focus on the incestous relationship and keeping Aria’s relationship more innocent than anything.
For this season, the four leads got to explore what it means to grow up with new romances and greater problems. The show’s breakthrough stars were Mitchell and Bellisario because their characters had the most growth. Mitchell allowed Emily to come into her sexuality and realize that being a swimmer wasn’t that important. Bellisario made the always in-control Spencer loosen up whenever Allen was around. She was able to overlook Toby’s past and accept him as someone special. The show’s greatest mystery/flaw is finding out A’s true identity. The reveal will be shocking, but also disappointing because the plot was always much more scary when “A” was a mystery than a reality.
Pretty Little Liars premiered on June 14th and will air its midseason finale on August 30th. New episodes are scheduled to air sometime next year. The Lying Game premiered on August 15th and airs Mondays at 9:00 pm. Both shows air on ABC Family.
Verdict: Two guilty pleasure shows that mixes teenage drama and nighttime soap mystery.
TV Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars (Pretty Little Liars)
3 out of 5 stars (The Lying Game)
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)