Pretty Little Liars: Desperate Housewives for Tots

I’m supposed to be drafting an essay for an edited collection on Glee. I turned on Netflix to watch reruns for my Gleesearch and, well, somehow I ended up watching Pretty Little Liars instead. It was so bad, but I couldn’t look away, and then it grew on me. I can rationalize this to myself because when I presented my paper on Veronica Mars I was asked a question about Pretty Little Liars and couldn’t answer it. Really, though, the issue is that once I’m hooked on a show, I can’t stop watching. I’m loyal to fictional characters to ridiculous levels. I mean, I saw every episode of Desperate Housewives. It’s bad. To temper my summer lazies with actual work, I had Liars on in the background as I read research and developed other plans. After devouring most of the first two seasons, I have a few observations.

1. This show is basically Desperate Housewives meets Queen Bees and Wannabees. Alison DiLaurentis is Regina George (possibly worse) if she had just pissed off the wrong person and got whacked. I was glad, however, to see that for the most part the politics of female friendship are not played up. The mystery takes precedent and the friendship among the remaining four girls feels natural and it doesn’t look like the writers are trying to parody teen girls. When the Mean Girls plot comes up again via Hannah and Mona, we get to see how Hannah evolves into a more mature, confident, and conscientious girl. That said, we can’t ignore that the whole premise of the show is based on teenagers having over-blown secrets and a murder plot that, as far as I can tell, centers on the old plot of the bad girl getting punished.

2. Speaking of (formerly bulimic “Hefty”) Hannah, the episode when “A” bribed her to throw up after a binge by planting money (which she desperately needs) in the bathroom was kind of amazingly warped.

3. The main plot with “A” reminds me a lot of the Scream trilogy for reasons I can’t quite place. I think the closing scenes in which we see “A” at work without seeing him/her are especially playful in this way. Sometimes this show actually gives me chills. For example, when the therapist gets a phone call of her voice recorded on loop: “And I’m the first person you’ve told?” My blood ran cold.

4. The show totally tried to recreate Tim Riggins in the Caleb character. Sorry, guys, that was pretty transparent.

5. I’m interested in whether anyone has written about the connections between Emily and Santana on Glee. Both are Latina lesbians whose first same-sex encounters were with BFFs. Is this coincidence (Emily came out before Santana) or is there a reason for the trend? Something about race/nationality, gender, sexuality? So, I Googled it. Hello, massive amounts of teen crossover fanfic.

6. Why do I love Toby so much?

Update: I missed some issues that I’m assuming are obvious, but I should probably mention. First, these girls are skin and bones, all of them. Yes, Hannah lost weight, but now she’s super skinny too. In the first season, we see them eating a lot and there is little trace of the preoccupation with the superficial (except Hannah’s love of shopping) in the show, but still,they  are pretty, pretty, skinny girls which plays into body image issues and the media. Next, except for Emily who appears to be the daughter of an Asian-American father (mostly gone because of military service) and a Latina mother, and her black(?) girlfriend, this is a white, white show. Then, there is a lot of surveillance being done on these girls by a trio of perverted college boys and an unknown (we find out female) assailant. Surveillance is a big deal in feminist film theory. Yes, the show deals with the creep factor, but there is a lot to unpack here. A lot. Also, one of the more masterful aspects of the show is the way I flinch whenever a cell phone beeps. A lot of the time it’s just the moms, but the tension runs through and through. It could be “A.”

Finally, too much of this show combined with reading The Sociopath Next Door (recommended to me because I am apparently too trusting), I’m feeling a little paranoid. Not crazy paranoid, but checking the closets and getting the creeps when walking the dog after dark paranoid. You know, things my father would encourage me to do anyway.

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