So, why—in the face of this harsh pop cultural landscape and the piles of low-quality teen dramas—would I allow myself to fall in love with a show like Pretty Little Liars? This is a show that superficially at least, has something in common with programs in those piles. It can be downright silly. However, a closer look reveals an informed and referential structure, a sophisticated humor, characters that are youthful, but not callow, and an altogether fine work of entertainment. Also, what’s wrong with silly?
However, silly alone wouldn’t have sustained my interest for three seasons. So what does Pretty Little Liars have going for it, besides boundless creativity with eye makeup? I have a theory. It involves a big spoiler. So if you haven’t seen any Pretty Little Liars episodes, I suggest you go watch all of them in an explosive marathon of entertainment, and then return to this article.
Not only is this show better acted and more smartly written—despite the occasional wince-inducing dialogue—than I was expecting, but it has a very specific and rare lesbian character. This character, Emily, (played by Shay Mitchell) is allowed to come out, the coming out process doesn’t take three or more seasons, and it doesn’t completely debilitate her. Of course, in reality it is nowhere near this easy for everyone, but sometimes it is, and it’s nice to watch a show where one of four main leads (the other three leads are played by Trojan Bellisario, Ashley Benson, and Lucy Hale) is gay and it neither destroys, nor takes over, her entire life.
She’s a lesbian in high school and she just… dates girls! The real mystery is how she manages to have the time to do it between school, the swim team, and fleeing from a text-happy killer with a healthy social media presence. (His/her cell phone bill data overages much be a fortune.) Emily goes to the movies with girls, kisses them, and gossips about it to her friends like she’s normal—because, finally, she is normal. That is her “regular life” and the more dramatic elements of the show are viewed as disruptions of it.
I am well aware that among the injustices that persist in the world, people are still bullied, restricted, oppressed, and killed for being queer. I don’t need to be gay to know this obvious fact, but I do happen to be. There have been improvements for some, but not for all, and that is mostly due to the sacrifices of too many and the work of too few. However, I can safely say that the cultural climate of my high school is better than when I was there in the late 1990s.
It is fun to imagine what it would be like if I were to attend it now. Watching Pretty Little Liars helps me to do that a little bit. There is also the added bonus of an interesting, if sassily-accessorized, whodunit. While many younger viewers are watching this television show aspirationally, thinking of relationships they might have when they get older, I’m watching it and trying to map it onto hypothetical relationships I could have had in the past. That doesn’t mean I’m looking for a Freaky Friday situation; I am very happy with my life and age. (I’m looking at you, lightening strikes/Board of Regents/fate Gods). It’s safe to assume that it would it be a hellish nightmare to have to relive age sixteen—as hellish as, say, having a mysterious omnipotent psychopath named “A” stalking you. However, it’s nice to think I could have had the opportunity to date somebody I was actually interested in while enduring said nightmare.
Thanks to what I did this summer, tonight I am very much looking forward to watching the premiere of the second half of #PLL season three. I can’t wait to see what happens next in Rosewood; here’s hoping it is as self-aware, fun, inventive, and tenaciously coiffed as the rest of the series has been. I enjoy this program; it’s a pleasure about which I feel absolutely zero guilt.