Thoughts on “Pretty Little Liars” (End Season 5)

So, two more seasons in from last time, I thought it would be a good idea to write about my impressions of the next two seasons. This probably makes this show the one I’ve commented on the most in the middle of watching it. Sure, other shows might have gotten more entries, but if they did they were longer series as well. This one is relatively short, but it really packs in the content in its seasons, which seems to be its greatest strength. This has also led to the oddity that despite the fact that I’m watching it in the evenings I rarely if ever doze off while watching it, and remember that I fall asleep during James Bond movies. I also am having a hard time reading while watching it, which is a sign of both a show I like and a show that has a lot of things going on in it. I’ve tried to read at times but noticed that I kept missing things, like jokes or encounters that are somewhat important. Even getting up to get a drink has had me rewinding the scene to watch because it was either good or important. So lots of things are happening which generally keeps me interested (although since each disk is often five episodes long sometimes I can get restless as well).

(As an aside, this was originally a book series, and I decided to pick up all of them to read, mostly to see how the books and the TV show differ and how the books themselves work and to be able to comment on that. Fortunately, hockey season is supposedly restarting soon — which is why I put a bit of a push on finishing the show — which will give me plenty of time to read).

The biggest flaw in the show is how they deal with open antagonists. All of them are annoying and come across as a lot less competent than they are portrayed to be. When things shake out, that’s probably reasonable, but in the moment all it does is make them really, really annoying. The counter to that is Mona, who is always portrayed as being hyper-competent but as an antagonist is mostly annoying and never seems as smart as she’s supposed to be (so the protagonists fall into her traps by being stupid rather than by her being clever). She works so much better when she’s at least nominally on the side of the protagonists instead of working against them. The show is fairly good at keeping the shady antagonist shady and competent, but when they bring them into the light and force them to work openly things tend to fall apart. Since the show is far more focused on the hidden threat, that’s not really an issue. But it does get really annoying when the threat is more active.

And at the end of Season 5 we actually have a dramatic shift in the show, where at least the current A actually captures the girls for some unknown purpose. This is an interesting move to make, and while it does escalate things it also provides something new. The only issue I have with it right now is that it might be difficult to tie this person into the overall plot. So, in short, I’m wondering if they can pull it off without it coming across as a gimmick and so mostly irrelevant to the overall story. Still, it’s a decent if overly dramatic cliffhanger.

The police are utter idiots throughout the entire series so far. And less because they are mistaken or wrong about most things, but that they are so aggressively hostile about it. The latest is Tanner, who expresses utterly idiotic and meaningless things with an air of hostile certainty so we feel no sympathy for her at all. It’s not even so much that she’s antagonistic, but that she’s uselessly antagonistic. If her blunt style occasionally turned up something useful, then we could find her character less of a waste. Or if she was constantly causing issues for the protagonists like Wilden was, then that would be better as well. But her scenes amount to nothing more than her busting someone’s chops over something when she has no idea what’s going on but is completely convinced that she knows everything. If she was even sympathetic to the girls but being forced into those conclusions — like her partner might have been — then that would be interesting. But as it is she’s a waste of scenes.

One of the issues with the show is that I think that it would have reduced the cries of “Just tell your parents/the police!” if more emphasis had been placed on the protagonists being more rats in a maze than with the more hostile revenge-type plots that it focused on. If A rewarded them or even hid their secrets when they obeyed but revealed secrets or hurt them or other people if they disobeyed, it would have given them a reason to go along with A and a real feeling of fear when they either tried to disobey or even went snooping around to try to figure out who A was. With the secrets and the blackmail, they would have wanted to try to find A to end it, but would have had to be secretive about it because bad things happen when they weren’t. There were cases of this — Hanna being asked to do bad things to get the money her mother stole back — but not enough to lampshade it in the later seasons. This might have interfered with the revenge motive that they played up, but it would have made things seem like less of an Idiot Plot.

I also think that they needed a chessmaster on their side, someone who could plot moves and while not match A step-for-step could at least set things in motion that could give A a challenge. I said at the beginning that they were going to need wins, and the show never really provided them because most of the characters weren’t at all able to provide them. The closest to that sort of character was Spencer, and she’s too smart for her own good and so can’t pull it off. This is one reason why Mona works well when she’s working with them because she can step into that sort of character while still being fallible enough to let A stay a bit ahead of them.

Personally, I think the character should have been Spencer’s boyfriend, because Toby, in my view, doesn’t quite work for Spencer. He’s good as someone who is — at least in later seasons — less intense and more laid-back than her, but he can’t really keep up with her intellectually (although there was a hint that he might become that in an early scene where he beats her at Scrabble) and she needs someone who can beat her at her own game but whom she can beat as well, but also someone who takes life less seriously and so can dampen down her intensity and get her to stop pushing at times. I don’t mind the character himself, but just think that he’s not really a good fit for her and that he could have been replaced with someone who could play more of a direct role in helping them, thus giving at least the three boyfriends a role that they could swap in and out as necessary (Hanna’s Caleb having the hacking skills, Aria’s Ezra having the research and research abilities, and Spencer’s boyfriend having planning skills that they needed). Caleb and Ezra have skills and are still mostly superfluous, but Toby is pretty much completely superfluous.

I still like Hanna the best. She gets a lot of the storylines and most of the worst ones, and Ashley Benson does a great job portraying the emotions needed to pull them off, in my opinion. I’m not sure if that was the plan for the character from the start or if the performance sold it, but she both gets dumped on a lot and also manages to portray that the best out of all of them. Emily is getting better as a character as she is getting more aggressive herself, but all of her storylines are still boring, and I’m puzzled as to why. My guesses are either that they didn’t want to take the risk of unintended consequences with the gay storylines, or else they thought that the gay storylines would be dramatic enough on their own and so didn’t really need to be interesting. It’s gotten to the point where I grimace whenever a scene starts with one of her personal storylines, and that’s not something I experience for pretty much anything else in the show, which hurts her character and is a bit sad.

I’m writing this a bit ahead, so by the time this goes up I should be on Season 7, and so almost to the end. So far, I’m really liking the show. Let’s see if the last couple of seasons screw that up.

2 Responses to “Thoughts on “Pretty Little Liars” (End Season 5)”

  1. Final Thoughts on “Pretty Little Liars” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] 6 and 7 were pretty disappointing overall. It all started with the fact that while in may last comments I noted that the direct actions taken by A made for a potentially interesting change, they resolved […]

  2. Thoughts on Scrabble, Mutant Revolution and Star Trek: Scene It! | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] a woman that I was somewhat dating at the time (and lost) but was reminded of it by the fact that Spencer and Toby play it in “Pretty Little Liars”, and so went out and bought myself a copy to try it out […]

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