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TV Series Review

Teen-and-youth dystopias can get pretty bleak these days.

Some poor, fictional youth are forced to participate in Fortnite-like killfests where the odds aren't ever in their favor. Sometimes they’re being chased by cyborg spiders or battling evil scientists or locked in underground cities. Sure, everyone in those worlds may be suspiciously attractive and all, but that never seems to make up for all the unrelenting angst and looming death they must face.

But as we all know—especially if we’re familiar with these dystopian worlds—there are fates worse than death. And if these fictional youth are particularly unlucky, they’ll be thrown into the world of the Pretty Little Liar franchise.

Woe. Woe to them.

Petty Livid Die-ers

No, the world of PLL doesn’t look exactly like a telegenic version of Mad Max: Fury Road. At first glance, the world looks much like our own.

Ah, but as many a character in the franchise knows, looks can be deceiving.

This television franchise (loosely based on a series of novels by Sara Shepard) began un-innocently enough with the apparent death of mean girl Alison DiLaurentis and the related apparent scheming of her four apparent friends. Somehow, Freeform managed to stretch this trashy, soapy mystery into seven long seasons loaded with sex and love and death and fashion, until finally the show—like first-season Alison—was duly buried.

But the series—like fourth-season Alison—has shown a surprising level of after-death exuberance. In fact, the Pretty Little Liars franchise has risen from its heavily-lipsticked grave to haunt television screens once again—this time as Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists. And here’s an irony for you: Alison seems to be the only member of PLL’s original five to survive.

The reformed mean girl now works as a literature teacher at Beacon Heights University, an incredibly prestigious, wildly competitive institution that also believes Agatha Christie novels are the height of prestige literature. (Next semester: the graphic novel version of Moby Dick!) Alison quickly realizes that the school is a dumpster fire of youthful passion, intrigue and betrayal, which you’d think would make the young teacher feel right at home.

The wealthy Hotchkiss family seems to stand at the center of it all—even though its members are dropping like flies. Oh, the family matriarch, Clair, seems to be faring reasonably well thus far, funneling her outrageous fortune into the school and using its high-tech security system to spy on anyone she pleases. But her daughter, Taylor, apparently killed herself a short time ago; and her seemingly slimy son, Nolan, was recently found impaled on an iron barricade. (Nolan was a member of the crew team, but perhaps he should’ve tried for a scholarship in fence-ing!)

'Course, this being a Pretty Little Liars story, death is rarely fatal. In fact, Taylor popped back to life before the end of the first episode. Nolan seems truly dead for the moment, though, and three of his (ahem) friends may have had something to do with it: Ava, a Kardashian-wanna-be (and Nolan’s former girlfriend); Caitlin, a senator in the making (and Nolan’s former girlfriend); and Dylan, a high-strung cellist (get it?) who’d cheat for Nolan and, truth be told, cheated with him, too. (Nolan clearly got around.)

Wince-ton University

I called the original Pretty Little Liars a “high-gloss, low-IQ drama,” and that still feels about right. But frankly, this new iteration of the series makes the old one feel like prestige TV.

In terms of its content, The Perfectionists is anything but perfect. If the show was a student at Beacon Heights, it’d major in prurience. (Perhaps the school itself specializes in the libertine arts?) Various characters make out and wake up naked in various beds. And whatever plumbing the students come equipped with doesn’t seem to matter with regard to whom they couple with. Some have estimated that perhaps 5% of the population of the United States identifies as LGBT: In this little corner of Oregon, it seems to be about 10 times that percentage—give or take, depending on the plot’s requirements, the mood of the participants and, perhaps, the barometric pressure.

Violence and death are all part of the class load, too, with blood threatening to ooze out many a natural orifice or unnatural puncture wound at the least provocation.

But, let’s face it, this show’s just dumb: Aggressively so, unapologetically so. And while The Perfectionists seems to be fully aware that it’s trash, it doesn’t even have the self-effacing humor that made the original ironically watchable.

Perhaps the characters themselves don’t necessarily feel as if they’re living in a horrific dystopian world. But I do when I watch it.

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Episode Reviews

March 20, 2019: "Pilot"



Readability Age Range



Sasha Pieterse as Alison DiLaurentis; Janel Parrish as Mona Vanderwaal; Sofia Carson as Ava Jalali; Sydney Park as Caitlin Lewis; Eli Brown as Dylan Walker; Hayley Erin as Taylor Hotchkiss; Graeme Thomas King as Jeremy Beckett; Kelly Rutherford as Claire Hotchkiss; Chris Mason as Nolan Hotchkiss; Evan Bittencourt as Andrew Villareal






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On Video

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Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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