Written by Caballero Oscuro
When their best friend Alison disappears, four attractive high school girls think their secrets are safe until they begin receiving threatening notes from a mysterious stalker identified only as “A”. Could Alison still be alive, even though they attended her funeral? Why is A tracking their every move? More importantly, what are you wearing tomorrow? The four girls are forced to navigate the typical pressures of high school with the added burden of their omnipresent stalker attempting to expose their secrets to outsiders and to each other. It sounds more than a bit like the I Know What You Did Last Summer movies, making it appear unlikely that they could maintain any sense of tension over a lengthy 22-episode season and beyond, and yet the show successfully manages to hold and build on that initial suspense throughout the season thanks to a variety of ongoing subplots that tie back into the central mystery.
The four remaining girls are a tight-knit circle when together but up to their own individual shenanigans when apart. De facto star Lucy Hale (the best thing to come out of the Bionic Woman remake debacle) is Aria Montgomery, a bright and sensible girl having a secret romance with her cute young English teacher while the marriage of her parents deteriorates. Emily Fields (Shay Mitchell) is coming to terms with her lesbian leanings while also befriending Alison’s suspected murderer, Hanna Marin (Ashley Benson) becomes an accomplice to her mother’s theft of riches from a safe deposit box, and Spencer Hastings (Troian Bellisario) unsuccessfully hides her dalliances with her older sister’s boyfriends. Through it all, A is watching and also acting to disrupt their lives and spill their secrets at every opportunity.
A’s sinister presence is typically communicated via text messages, which usually elicits the reaction of the girls looking around in panic to see who could be sending the messages. Of course the smart thing to do would be to simply block the texts, which they do very early in the season, but in another episode or two it’s apparently too unbearable for teen girls to continue blocking messages from strangers (or for the writers to work around that limitation), moving them to enable full access for A once again. Meanwhile, the girls frequently recall their past with Alison via flashbacks that provide clues to their current predicaments and potential villains, but A always remains one step ahead of them.
This being a high school show, there are some parents in orbit too, and in this case they’re fairly well known. Aria’s parents are played by Chad Lowe (Rob’s bro) and Holly Marie Combs (Charmed), Shay’s mom is played by Nia Peeples, and Hanna’s mom is played by Laura Leighton (Melrose Place). It’s kind of odd to see Combs in a mom role so shortly removed from Charmed, just as it’s difficult to reconcile the idea of Leighton as a parental figure due to her fame as the scheming Sydney Andrews, but all of the parents hit their marks effectively and stay out of the way of the younger leads. The only other oddity for me in the supplemental casting was Bianca Lawson as Emily’s love interest, Maya, not because she wasn’t great for the role but only because she’s been playing various high school roles for nearly 20 years now dating back to her early days on Saved by the Bell: The New Class when she actually was in high school, stretching her credibility pretty thin here.
The show is consistently strong throughout the season and seems to have plenty of juice for a decent multi-season run, with new subplots and shifting relationships keeping things interesting. It’s just shy of network TV production qualities and doesn’t cater to a younger audience, making it worth seeking out for all demographics, although its slightly racy themes don’t scream out the “family” entertainment one might expect of its channel. With good writing and capable performances from its leads, particularly Hale and Bellisario, there’s enough here to warrant devotion from much more than just the fans of its source novels.
The DVD box set includes all 22 Season One episodes spread across five discs housed in a standard-size DVD case. The first four discs contain episodes and a few inconsequential deleted scenes, while the fifth disc houses the season-ending episodes along with bonus features including interviews with the stars where they tell two truths and one lie, a segment on how the original novels were translated to the screen, and some behind-the-scenes footage.