The latest blood-soaked entry in the Pretty Little Liars franchise, based on the series of books by Sara Shepard, was released on HBO Max and delivered plenty of scares and twists in the first three episodes. For this review, I’ll focus on the first two episodes, which do a great job of introducing the revamped and modernized world of Pretty Little Liars to a new generation. I was initially skeptical of this show when I saw the trailer, but you know what they say: never judge a book by its cover. Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin is an entertaining, if somewhat problematic, series created by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Riverdale) and Lindsay Calhoon Bring. The show follows a group of teenage girls who are stalked and threatened by the murderous “A”, who holds them responsible for a tragedy involving all of their parents several years prior.
I’ve only seen the first seven episodes of the original Pretty Little Liars, which took the 2010s by storm thanks to its many twists and turns. The original series was notable for setting up huge mysteries, only to abandon them or introduce plot-holes that invalidated every mystery that came before. It’s still early in Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin‘s run, but the mystery of this new show is both dark and compelling and the first two episodes give audiences just enough information and plenty of subtle clues to keep us coming back for more.
This time around, the Liars of Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin, are a diverse group of teenage girls who find themselves drawn together after they are given a Breakfast Club-style detention and realize they all have an enemy in common: rude, homophobic, racist mean girl Karen, who’s twin sister Kelly is never far from her shadow. Unfortunately, a greater mystery is at play when a terrifying masked figure stalks the girls and seems to hold them accountable for the sins of their parents while murdering people around them.
Right off the bat, Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin distinguishes itself from the previous entries in the franchise with its emphasis on horror elements, particularly its slasher-inspired tone and atmosphere. By the end of the second episode, three—possibly four—people have been brutally murdered by “A”. While death and murder played a role in the original series, the stakes this time around are much higher, and Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin relishes in its spot on HBO Max, allowing for more graphic content.
It’s no surprise then that the series tackles almost every social issue it can within the pilot episode- suicide, bullying, abortion, teen pregnancy, sexual assault, grooming, and so on. It feels a bit overblown, and while these elements should be explored onscreen, they aren’t given enough time to be authentically dissected. The result is a series that is trying to be relevant to modern audiences, and while the effort should be commended, it’s a little too much.
The cast mostly shines in their roles, though the parents and the boyfriends of the Liars are the least interesting parts of the ensemble. Bailee Madison plays Imogen Addams, a pregnant teen whose mother commits suicide in the first episode (or did she?). Imogen is smart and resourceful but she’s also deeply manipulative, and I’m pretty sure she has a dark side. Chandler Kinney plays Tabby Hawthorne, a horror-film fanatic and cinephile who finds herself dealing with a pervy boss at work. Tabby started off as my favorite character, but by the end of the second episode, I wished the series would tone down her horror movie references. They are CONSTANT and it’s not a normal way teenagers speak. Zaria plays determined ballerina Faran Bryant, who’s cool and laid back but deals with racism from the mean girl Karen (Mallory Bechtel who also plays her twin sister Kelly) and cruel ballet teacher Madame Giry (Kate Jennings Grant). Malia Pyles plays social outcast and quiet girl Mouse Honrada, and Maia Reficco plays Noa Olivar, a track star recently released from juvie.
I’m excited about what Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin has to offer. It’s a bit of a mess, but it’s an entertaining blood-soaked mess that will please fans of the slasher genre.
Final Thoughts and Musings
I seriously don’t trust Imogen. Pay close attention to the way she roped everyone into a scheme against Karen. Not saying Karen doesn’t deserve to be brought down a peg, but Imogen escalated way too quickly for someone who is supposedly a nice person, and she was the first to express guilt when the prank backfired, almost as if she was trying to distract the other Liars. She has a dark side, and her occasional, sinister glances at the camera confirm my suspicions, especially because her mother is so deadset against her daughter becoming a bully.
There are a lot of pedophiles in Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin. I’m glad that the series isn’t glorifying it as it did with Aria and Ezra in the original show, but I’m wondering why it’s a plot point Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa keeps coming back to in his series.
There are soooooo many horror movie references in the first two episodes alone, not counting all of the spoken references by Tabby. My favorite and the most outrageous is when “A” texts Imogen and asks her “What’s your favorite scary movie?” before pulling a Michael Myers and staring at her in class.
The “A” in Pretty Little Liars is one scary killer. I can’t wait to see more from this villain.
I watched the series with my roommate Brontë, who had this to say about Tabby: it’s like she’s walking fan page for movies.” Honestly Tabby would be a great character if they toned down the references the character makes. There’s a lot of inner strength to Tabby and she clearly recognizes that she is being groomed and manipulated by her creepy boss. She’s not afraid to speak her mind and she’s a good friend to Imogen, even if Imogen emptionally manipulates her. Just please for the love of horror——tone down the references!