When I first watched Pretty Little Liars, a highly acclaimed “American teen drama mystery thriller” on the CW, I was in the 6th grade. Middle school is such a specific and influential time of life, and it seems as if that is when you make all the decisions you will regret but at the same time find the things you are most passionate about. For me, discovering Pretty Little Liars through a friend’s recommendation during English class cemented the commencement of a journey that changed the trajectory of my life, and I am not even joking. I can go on and on about both the humorous and personal ways this show impacted my life. At one point I would only buy clothes that reminded me of what Aria would wear, I bought a Red Coat™ PLL inspired Halloween costume (inspired by Bethany Mota), and I made PLL-inspired Pinterest and Polyvore edits (which iykyk). Something even more unhinged I did was try to emulate Spencer in my academic and personal life. If you recognize any of the people or websites, you know just how middle school this is.
What Pretty Little Liars meant to me as a tween is something that I cannot fully understand or put into words. In a way, this show is why my life is the way it is now. If it was not for Aria and Hannah I would for sure not have paid much attention to my clothes besides what I saw on Instagram, and it was truly because of them (and Gossip Girl) that I found a love for High Fashion. And yeah, I studied hard throughout middle and high school to make my parents proud, but also because it was “giving Spencer” and that made 12 year-old me feel insanely cool. After I originally finished the show and obviously cried (like full-on sobbed) at the ending, I did not ever rewatch it again. My reason to not rewatch it like I do with my other favorite shows was because the memory I had of PLL was sacred and something I did not want to ruin, but also because Netflix took it off and my parents were not exactly going to be spending $65 on the DVD set for me. So for 6 years, PLL became a show that I remembered fondly when I watched a movie with Lucy Hale or Troian Bellisario or any of the other actors. Pretty Little Liars became something I filed away in my brain as an iconic part of life. Then, last year, almost to the date, an Australian YouTuber stage-named “Mike’s Mic” decided to reawaken the importance of this show in my life.
Rediscovering this show through Michael was, in one word, a revelation. Rewatching a show that you filed in your middle school brain as perfect, with a more developed brain is eye-opening. I mean for starters, I would probably not recommend this show to my little cousin who is the same age now as I was when I started watching it. Michael’s 6 hour-long video consists of a humorous and critical analysis of the 7-season show, and you bet I watched all 6 hours of his series. Having a new perspective on this show made me conflicted about just how much I used to ‘stan’ the show and held it to such a high standard as a middle schooler. I feel that what the showrunner, I. Marlene King, achieved with this show was more unhinged and bonkers than anything Riverdale or a Ryan Murphy show could have achieved. Let me tell you about some of PLL’s best hits: having the girls decked out at 7:30 in the morning for school, the moms low-key being iconic and messy characters in their own right, using a talking bird name Tippi to give the girls a clue, “Ello Spencer”, and maybe the craziest: getting a whole generations of pre-teens to ‘ship’ a relationship between Aria and her HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH TEACHER. Spoiler alert: I. Marlene King made Aria marry her teacher at the end of the series, and that certainly does not mean that sin was cleansed. I could go on about some of the crazy things this show pulled off, but Michael’s video was truly a great wake-up call on why I viewed the world the way I did. Oh, to be a fly on the wall in the writer’s room when they came up with the final season, when things went from bonkers to completely insane.
LaToya Fergunson from Paste magazine correctly pointed out PLL was the only show on the air in the early 2010s asking the question “What if the most privileged teenage girl—who was also possibly the worst person you knew—in your small town ended up murdered … and then an omniscient, omnipresent bully hacker plagued you and your friends over your complicity in her Queen Bee reign of terror prior to her murder?” Pretty Little Liars was unlike any other shows during its time. I mean, even the theme song has been cemented as one of television’s best. The memes of the show are still alive and well, and the discourse is still present in pop culture. I. Marlene King has even tried to recreate the original popularity of Pretty Little Liars with two reboots of the show, but because of the fan dedication to the unhinged original version, the success has not been replicated. That is why I did not watch the other two reboots. I have made my peace with this show being a problematic but important aspect of my life. I may not look back fondly with naivety to some parts of the show, but looking back with a more humorous and adult approach made me appreciate the importance of the show without wincing as much about the memories I do have.