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Pretty Little Liars: Summer School

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Cast

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Reviewer

Lauren Cook

TV Series Review

(Editor’s Note: Summer School covers Season Two of Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin. To read our review of Season One, click here.)

Every horror movie deserves a bigger, bloodier sequel. At least, that’s what “A” seems to think.

In Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin, five teenage girls barely escaped a serial killer’s schemes for revenge. They unmasked the mysterious “A,” got him taken into police custody, and settled in for what was supposed to be a quiet rest of the year.

Normal high school life, however, doesn’t seem to be in the cards. In Season Two (rebranded under the subtitle Summer School), the Liars are back — and A isn’t finished with them yet.

With dark forces at their heels and — almost even worse — summer classes ahead, Imogen, Tabby, Faran, Mouse and Noa are about to learn that this may not be the dream summer they intended.

“A” IS FOR “ALARMING”

The original Pretty Little Liars captivated young adult audiences with twists, thrills, and over-the-top teen angst for seven seasons, coming to a close in 2017. While sexuality and violence played key roles in PLL’s drama (and undoubtably in its success), it was still bound by the restraints of cable TV. You’d be hard pressed to find many gruesomely spilled guts in the show’s 160 episodes.

The same can’t be said for Original Sin/Summer School. In the lawless realm of streaming, this spinoff series delves even further into blood, language and sexual content. F-bombs abound, the girls regularly get intimate with their boyfriends, and terror lurks around every corner. While we’re usually only treated to the moments right before or after the brutal murders, we certainly hear everything, from stabbing to screams. It doesn’t shy away from the occasional up-close-and-personal bloodshed, either. Sexual assault and teen pregnancy are also frequently discussed (Imogen spent most of last season pregnant, and she has now given her baby up for adoption to a homosexual couple).

As if that wasn’t bad enough, all of these situations center on teenagers — and it’s here that we find Summer School’s dark, ugly core.

It’s clear throughout the show that the girls are in high school. Near the end of the season’s first episode, however, they celebrate the conclusion of the school year and their time as sophomores. Sophomores?! These girls are barely old enough to drive? There’s something both deeply comical and deeply unsettling about 25-year-old actress Bailee Madison, dolled up in a full face of makeup and designer clothes, smiling as she delivers lines about looking forward to her junior year of high school.

This is, of course, by no means a recent issue in television. In the original PLL, actress Troian Bellisario was 25 when she started playing 16-year-old Spencer Hastings. But in the seven years since PLL ended, it’s hard to believe that absolutely nothing has changed. Are we really still presenting these morally ambiguous, sexually active characters with the faces of grown, mature women as the ideal of what a high school girl should be? Is this really the best we can do for our next generation of young women? At an age when insecurities abound, when many girls already struggle with self image and lack of confidence, depictions of teenagers like the ones in Summer School aren’t just inaccurate—they’re downright harmful.

“A” isn’t the only dangerous force making a return in this update on Pretty Little Liars. Viewers can expect all the same scheming, backstabbing (literally) and unrealistic standards for teens, plus increased violence, language and sexuality to boot.

(Editor’s Note: Plugged In is rarely able to watch every episode of a given series for review. As such, there’s always a chance that you might see a problem that we didn’t. If you notice content that you feel should be included in our review, send us an email at [email protected] (or contact us via Facebook or Instagram), and be sure to let us know the episode number, title and season so that we can check it out.)

Episode Reviews

May 9, 2024 – S2, E1: “SpookySpaghetti.com”

Months after the capture of serial killer “A,” the Liars struggle to readjust to a normal life. But they are forced back into action by what appears to be a dark supernatural force.

Blood and violence abounds throughout the episode. Most of the gore is shown in the aftermath of killings through brief shots of stab wounds; however, one gruesome murder is shown onscreen in closeup. “A” hides in the backseat of a car, then slits the driver’s throat, which we’re shown in all its bloody detail. Several other killings occur offscreen, and we hear the sounds of stabbing and screams. Technology enthusiast Mouse becomes obsessed with a crime blog and describes several theories she finds there, including that “A” created his mask by sewing together pieces of his mother’s skin. Aspiring filmmaker Tabby creates a short film centering on “rape revenge,” in which a female character stabs her assaulter to death (the story represents Tabby’s feelings towards a character who assaulted her in the previous season).

Multiple teenage girls are seen making out with their boyfriends, usually with the implication of more happening after we cut away. Noa strips down to her bra while in bed with her boyfriend, Shawn. A teenage couple exploring a supposedly haunted cabin makes out on a mattress, and the girl takes off her shirt, revealing her bra, before they are both stabbed to death by a mysterious killer. Faran wears a sports bra that reveals her midriff while working out, and all of the girls wear revealing bikinis while sunbathing. Kelly, one of the girls’ friends who has recently converted to Christianity, passionately kisses her boyfriend Greg, but stops and prays for the Lord to help her overcome her “impure desires.” Tabby discusses her sexual assault with her therapist, though not in graphic terms. References are made to Mouse’s “moms,” and Imogen’s baby is adopted by a married gay couple.

Faran visits Kelly at her church to check up on her, and Kelly passionately shares how her faith has helped her heal and grow. Faran is skeptical, but Kelly insists she hasn’t been “brainwashed.” She invites Greg to church with her, promising she’ll “make a believer” out of him. Greg expresses his annoyance at her constant prayer and whispers “You know I’m an atheist, right?” during the church service.

Despite Kelly’s claims that nothing suspicious is going on, the church and its pastor seems to lean towards “cultish” behavior, restricting Kelly’s relationships with her friends and keeping her secluded from the outside world. The girls attempt to summon a spirit by reciting her name five times in a bathroom mirror; Tabby says “thank the Lord” when it doesn’t work.

The f-word is used five times, and the s-word is heard eight times. “D–n” is used four times, and “b–ch” and “a–“ are each used once. The Lord’s name is taken in vain thirteen times.

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Lauren Cook Bio Pic
Lauren Cook

Lauren Cook is serving as a 2021 summer intern for the Parenting and Youth department at Focus on the Family. She is studying film and screenwriting at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. You can get her talking for hours about anything from Star Wars to her family to how Inception was the best movie of the 2010s. But more than anything, she’s passionate about showing how every form of art in some way reflects the Gospel. Coffee is a close second.

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