I like Pretty Little Liars for one very important reason. To get to that reason, I have to clear a path past the biggest reason I don’t like it: they dress and look like they are much older (primarily because they are). However, save for John Hughes who although didn’t necessarily cast younger leads certainly knew how to realistically write/direct for them, most film and television teens are portrayed by adult actors.
So, why the band? And why don’t I want them to break up? Because they stick together. Despite major plot terrors (most of which Large Marge could drive through), and break ups and make ups, they have each other’s backs. And that is something that ABC Family seems to get right. Now, I’m not comparing it to the pathos of Breaking Bad, but there is something to be said for the message they are presenting. And I would like to think that at some level they are attempting to grapple with the greater societal ills and the predatory nature of our culture. A culture that leads young women to be caught in the snares of stalking, bullying, domestic violence, and the ultimate betrayal of sexual assault and even murder. And these issues are dealt with on the show. They miss the target, probably intentionally in some places, but there is an over arching theme that resonates – these young women support one another. And that is rare.
Compare it to the messaging of…I don’t know… let’s say Twilight. What was going on there? Choice? I don’t think so. I think it was carefully packaged, abusive messaging that young girls consumed in mass quantity. And what of The Hunger Games? While the books fared a bit better, overall it was a pretty meager attempt to wrestle the concept of a young girl living in dystopian times. There is a hidden gem in Divergent. I have not read the books, but the films manage to widen the landscape of what a young woman is capable of during the best and worst that life throws at her.
As is the case with Pretty Little Liars. The show, based on the books of Sara Shepard, work to enlarge the view of young women living today. And yes, it looks a bit more like Sex and the City with the shoes, the fashion shows and hair weaves. To the show’s credit, each young girl is fashioned with a unique look that helps to quickly designate her character. So, when you sift through the wreckage, you find Spencer (bright, college-bound, Nancy Drew type), Aria (a little rebellious, quick to anger, quick to love), Emily (the questioning one who comes out early in the series, leading in loyalty points with all her friends – good and evil), and the biggest surprise Hanna (the blonde with shoplifting ambitions, somehow maneuvers her way into saving the day more times than not). They fight, they argue, but when it comes down to the final moment (and there are a lot of them on this show), their loyalty is to each other. Despite conflicting evidence, persuasion or threats from multiple sources, it’s all for one and one for all. And although not meant to be elegant visual prose, at least when the young girls are watching the show (in droves), the consistent theme of togetherness resinates.
*So to Pretty Little Liars I say thanks for doing your small part in the big picture. Thanks for showing young women who are courageous and bold, who support one another, and who are fighting together against a culture that wants to condemn and harm them. They are a band of sisters and I for one think they need to keep the jams going.