At Millwood High, the craziest thing isn’t that there’s a killer on the loose, but that the small-town school has a budget for a ballet program.
“Pretty Little Liars” television spinoff “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin” is led by Robert Aguirre-Sacasa, the creator and showrunner of “Riverdale” — and the audience can tell.
The “Pretty Little Liars” series ran network television in the 2010s: Aria (Lucy Hale), Spencer (Troian Bellisario), Hannah (Ashley Benson) and Emily (Shay Mitchell) were the girlbossing sleuths before girlbossing was mainstream. Despite its amateur acting and cringeworthy moments, audience members couldn’t stop watching; consistent with teen dramas such as “Degrassi,” “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” and “Riverdale,” the show’s so bad it’s good. Throw a mysterious killer into the mix and you’ve got a television hit.
Expectedly, “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin” follows a similar direction to its predecessor. With its premiere airing in July, the spinoff flashes back to the ’90s, when a group of teenage girls found themselves entangled in tragedy when classmate Angela Waters (Gabriella Pizzolo) jumped to her death. Now, as mothers, the leading ladies stumble across trouble when their daughters become tormented by a reminiscent, cruel figure known mysteriously as “A.”
With unmistakable Gen-Z flair, the newest group of gals are pregnant Imogen (Bailee Madison), framed delinquent Noa (Maia Reficco), feminist Tabby (Chandler Kinney), ballerina Faran (Zaria Simone) and resident internet girly Mouse (Malia Pyles). Sense the Riverdale influence? What made the original show palatable is that the protagonists’ development felt honest and real. In the newest series, however, it’s as though internet speech and culture threw up all over the characters in the most artificial way, making the series often incredibly unenjoyable. When will writers realize audience members see right through this?
Aside from these quips, admittedly, the show still appeals with its fun plot twists and sometimes compelling thrills. Who doesn’t enjoy a little girl power? Like the original show, it navigates the difficulties of being a teenage girl, and it rightfully dives a little deeper into the tumultuous relationship between mother and daughter. The series gladly highlights its intelligent female characters with surprising depth, sometimes even giving viewers a sense of empowerment. For a series mounted under internet pressure of wokeness, however, it’s worth noting that each female character is quickly set up with a male love interest. Even Mouse, who the audience learns is interested in joining the LGBTQ+ club on campus, is met with a male-presenting interest, Ash.
First seasons are always foundational, but in “Original Sin,” there’s an excessive amount of backstory. Each episode slowly divulges its characters and their pasts; Faran suffers from scoliosis and a mother doomed with perfectionism, while Mouse and her mothers are plagued by childhood trauma that is slowly being unraveled to audience members. Though sometimes these backstories take too long to unfold, they provide enough basis for engaging character development.
Aside from mystery antagonist “A,” there really isn’t much crossover between the first series and its spinoff, which is slightly disappointing for anyone hoping for more nostalgic elements. In the new series, apart from the identity of “A,” there are also a fair number of loose ends introduced early on. Audience members are left looking for answers in the murder of Karen, death of Angela Waters, who “A” is and the secret the protagonists’ mothers are hiding. Between episodes, these exorbitant plot lines begin to blend together, and tediously so.
“Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin” is the kind of show that watchers might enjoy with friends as a casual weekly ritual. It’s far from stunning television, lacking beautiful scenic shots, an invigorating soundtrack or honestly any meaningful cultural value. Yet every episode, the mystery thriller manages to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Even though it might cause audiences to cringe, the show isn’t worth a hate-watching label. More so, it’s a joyful return to what made the original show so powerful — it’s perfectly mindless.