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ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars is not Mad Men, nor does it try to be. The quintessential summer series, in which an omnipresent
thing person named “A” causes psychological, physical and emotional harm to Aria (Lucy Hale), Spencer (Troian Bellisario), Emily (Shay Mitchell) and Hanna (Ashley Benson) after their best friend Alison (Sasha Pieterse) dies, Pretty Little Liars doesn’t hold back when it comes to tackling the big issues. Stealing from a bank, a kid coming out and a student-teacher relationship are some of the featured storylines on the saucy ABC Family drama. Last we left off, Ian (Ryan Merriman), the prime suspect for “A” was found hanging in the bell tower of the town’s church — but when the group returned to show the police, he was gone.
Executive producer Oliver Goldstick spoke candidly with The Hollywood Reporter about the upcoming second season, waxing poetic on everything from the new men in Rosewood to the complicated relationships turn the girls’ lives upside-down.
The Hollywood Reporter: How has the season been going so far?
Oliver Goldstick: We’re in episode eight right now and we’ve only left the [Warner Bros.] lot once and that was to do a cemetery [shot]. Having parameters actually helps sometimes because you know what you can do and what you can’t and you try to really exploit what you have. You can’t be wasteful, you can’t just say we’re putting a camel in the scene. Necessity is the mother of invention. We basically look and go, “We have to have this. How can we make it work on the back lot?” We wink sometimes at the audience because we know it’s bit quinky-dinky that there’s the one cop who shows up at the school three times. Hopefully the audience is somewhat forgiving of that, recognizing that it is a world where it’s a town that’s been created. It may not be on the map, but it’s the map of our imagination.
READ: ‘Pretty Little Liars’ EP on ‘A’: ‘I Think You Might Know This Person
THR: What’s outside the limit for you guys? What is crossing the line?
Goldstick: As far as content, as long as we can produce it and as long as it is within our limit [we’ll do it]. There are several major Hitchcock fans in the writers’ room and we’ve talked about wanting to do an homage of certain films. I’ve wanted to do a train episode, where that becomes, “Can we really do that? Will this really look terrible? Can we pull this off?” Although we have found if we can find a way to contain things and trade off and say, “Look we’re going to steal money from this episode and put it into this episode,” sometimes we can do it. We can’t really do a disaster movie episode. We can’t do an airport, things that are beyond our scope, and we have to tell those in a smaller way.
As far as content, we’ve got a network that has been supportive with how edgy the show has been. I said to [creator] Marlene [King] when I first saw the pilot, “It’s a very different family than I thought.” There was the dilemma of how can you make people who are lying or deceptive or deceitful sympathetic. With teenage protagonists, everybody is lying; that’s what’s interesting. The books tapped into something organic because we’re all trying on identities but at that age, it’s daily. You’re posing and you’re praying no one’s going to call you out. The “A” of it all is also a huge part of today’s culture, where people – because of the internet and blogs – aren’t taking responsibility for their actions in the same way.
THR: Being that the show is adapted from a book, how many liberties were taken with the pacing and the way the plot points were revealed?
Goldstick: We have to stretch this out. Granted, when Sara Shepard conceived the books, she had no idea she’d be writing eight of them so she also had to reconceive it. We knew as a television series that Warner Bros. would want several seasons, ABC Family as well, and therefore we have to parse out information and figure out how to pay allegiance to the books and deploy the plot points that are there, but also build on things that aren’t there. For example, the parents are almost ciphers in the books – some of them don’t even have first names – and it was the idea that once you put actors on-camera, you have to develop them, fleshed out and with their own story and their own dilemmas and their own lives.
THR: How long can the “A” story line go on for?
Goldstick: I think we felt Alison’s killer, it looked like it was resolved at the end of last season but there may be some twists and turns. Ian may not even be dead, for all you know, so there you go. Just when you think you know something, it’s our job to keep spinning the yarns and keeping you hooked and going, “Oh my god. I thought I understood this and you’re telling me now, this person has a motive to kill her?” All I can tell you is Alison made a lot of enemies.
THR: But if the series lasts for years and years, will it be in the series finale where we’ll finally find out who “A” is?
Goldstick: Yea, that’s the hope and maybe some series aren’t meant to go beyond four seasons, I don’t think know. This could be a four-season show. In the world we live in now, some things can live on for 12 seasons, some times are really meant to be delicious for three, four, five seasons. It doesn’t mean they aren’t successful, it means they told the story they needed to tell.
THR: So you think this show falls in the latter category?
Goldstick: Probably, but I’ll get in trouble for that one. Watch, the fifth season will be completely recharged. By the fifth season, maybe something happens that reenergizes the series and you go, “Oh my god, this character has brought an entire new energy and now we have a whole other story to tell.”
THR: Hypothetically, if “A” was revealed this season and a second arc was introduced, what would that look like?
Goldstick: Well in the books, there became a second “A.”
[You are heading into the SPOILER ZONE.]
THR: Julian Morris is returning to Rosewood, what is the plan for him as Wren?
Goldstick: He’s getting an internship at the Rosewood Community Hospital because he applied there when he was engaged to Melissa (Torrey DeVitto). Of course, with some divine, ironic being up there, said let’s pick him now that he’s become the pariah of this town – at least in this family. Wren is back and he is in a couple of episodes already.
THR: How will his presence affect Spencer and Toby (Keegan Allen)?
Goldstick: It’s interesting because Spencer and Toby, we call them Spoby, they’re very sweet together. Toby’s been through so much and so has Spencer last season; we have to be very cautious with the Wren of it all. We use him in a triangle here. It’s definitely volatile to have him back in the mix.
THR: Noel (Brant Daugherty) is back in the fray. What is going on with him this season?
Goldstick: I don’t want to ruin too much, but you saw who he was dating in the first episode, which gives him a very interesting ally.
THR: Can you tell us about any other new characters that may be coming into Rosewood?
Goldstick: Alison’s brother Jason, he buys the DeLaurentis’ house and moves in and he’s a very mysterious and ambiguous. There are times, especially with Aria, where he seems to be so benign and so benevolent – someone who really wants to help her and the situation she finds herself in – and yet the others find her to be quite frightening and think that his motives moving is frightening. He’s a new character in the mix, played by Drew Van Acker. The other person joining us this season is Annabeth Gish, playing Dr. Sullivan, the therapist. The girls are assigned to a therapist who believes they haven’t really grieved Alison properly.
THR: Will it turn out that the therapist is a tool that “A” is using to get to them?
Goldstick: It could be. It could very well be.
THR: Will the parents play a larger role this season?
Goldstick: Toward the end, because there are so many characters to serve in the series, it’s a conundrum. There’s a wealth of stories to tell and then when it comes down to it, the mystery and romance become very important. The parents are integral to these stories, but they don’t know about the “A” of it all or the mystery because they can’t know about it yet, but I will tell you that Pam Fields (Nia Peeples) has a lot to do in the first episodes back this season. The Fields are moving to Texas so she’s pretty prominent. Ella (Holly Marie Combs) and Byron (Chad Lowe) are back together living together but there’s going to be a new crisis in their family and at least one new secret that could break them up or at least destroy the family – and it’s not about their marriage or their fidelity.
THR: With Aria having a new love interest, how is that going to affect her relationship with Ezra (Ian Harding)?
Goldstick: The thing with Aria is that she thought with [Ezra] leaving the high school would solve all their problems and they would be able to have a more adult relationship. He’s no longer a teacher so it’s not inappropriate, but what ends up happening is Hollis College presents a whole other set of complications and hurdles. Everything from someone unlikely being in a class that she takes so she can hang out on-campus; that happens in episode 203. Or she suddenly finds herself in a class with someone who she shouldn’t be within 20 feet of, you can guess about that one. You also have the complication of her father teaching there and so does Jackie, [Ezra’s] ex. You’ve got some other obstacles on that campus. Ezra and Aria, it’s two steps forward, one step back.
THR: Who is the new guy? Is he going to be a student?
Goldstick: Can’t tell you.
THR: Is there an end game in place?
THR: So you’re going season by season …
Goldstick: Yes, season by season. We know where we want to go at the end of the season and we work backwards from there. But we don’t have an end game as far as the series. We’ve talked about it, but we concentrate much more on the particular season.
THR: Were there specific storylines or characters that you were surprised by the reaction to?
Goldstick: There were a couple actually. I didn’t think the audience would embrace Lucas (Brendan Robinson) like they did. That was really interesting. The studio called us right away and said, “Put him in more episodes.” We said, “Lucas, really, in this world?” He was going to be the butt of jokes from Alison, but he’s a lovely actor and a lovely kid. They loved Noel Kahn in a way that we didn’t expect. People really liked him.
THR: Any storylines that you were worried about that paid off in the end?
Goldstick: There are things like Emily’s mom not accepting her for who she is. You go, “Oh god, will we ever be able to redeem this mother or will she be a hated character?” I don’t worry about that anymore because I know all it takes is one thing – a good actor, good direction – one thing can turn an entire character around.
Pretty Little Liars returns for its second season Tuesday at 8 p.m. on ABC Family.
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