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ABC Family’s drama staple Pretty Little Liars heads into its fifth season, which includes the 100th episode milestone, and there’s a sense from the team behind the “A” saga that there’s a renewed approach to the storytelling.
Much of that is due in part to reincorporating the formerly dead Alison DiLaurentis (Sasha Pieterse) into present-day Rosewood, Penn. But concocting headline-worthy twists (and there have been several) where it’s part of the show’s DNA deep into its run (the June 10 premiere will be PLL‘s 96th episode) has proven difficult at times.
“The challenge is to make it feel [fresh],” executive producer Oliver Goldstick tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We’ve added new elements by bringing Alison home. That alone is explosive.” Says fellow executive producer Joseph Dougherty: “It’s a new approach to the show. We’ve all felt it when we we’ve written episodes with Ali that aren’t flashbacks.”
While the first four seasons saw the main Liars — Spencer (Troian Bellisario), Hanna (Ashley Benson), Aria (Lucy Hale) and Emily (Shay Mitchell) — attempting to solve several key mysteries, chief among them Alison’s “killer” and the identity of the omnipresent “A,” bringing Alison back into the fold forces everyone to address past indiscretions and mistakes that could ultimately shape the future. Trust, as one can imagine, plays a major role.
“Season five has a lot to do with figuring out allegiances in the new dynamic and how Rosewood is going to function when Ali comes back,” explains Dougherty. “It’s going to be about who you can trust.” Executive producer Marlene King says it’s not just the Liars who have to deal with Alison’s resurrection: “Lucas, Paige, Noel Kahn, everybody who was tangled under her web.” The 100th episode, for instance, takes place on Alison’s first day back at school. “Do we get sucked back in? What do we do? How do we deal with it? That’s what’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out. Does this group need a leader? Does this group want a leader?” she hints.
It’s a question that will be asked for the better part of the season, and the fallout won’t be pretty. “Their friendships will be challenged and [there will be] a tectonic shift in their relationship because Alison wants to assume that [leadership] position. And they’re saying, ‘We don’t really need that anymore. We’re a democracy.’ Their government has changed in her absence,” says Goldstick. “We are inspired by that when we tell stories through that lens.”
Another looming cliffhanger comes in the form of Ezra’s (Ian Harding) declaration, prior to getting shot in the stomach, that he knows who “A” was. Though some may consider Ezra’s sacrifice to be his first step toward becoming his old self, King isn’t so sure things are that simple for Aria’s former love. “He still needs to be redeemed, by the way,” says King. “He took a bullet for the girls, but he still has some work to do. That’s definitely part of [his arc].” The answer to who shot Ezra, however, will come sooner than expected, “very early” in the season, says King. “It’s a big twist. We find out maybe a week from Tuesday.”
King told THR in mid-March that season five was shaping up to be “our most emotionally complex season so far,” and she echoed that point this go-around. “It’s emotional. It’s very epic in every way. It’s rich and full. It’s kind of nonstop. It’s like a freight train this season,” she comments.
There are no signs of slowing down for PLL (March’s season-four finale drew 3.12 million viewers and a 1.3 in adults 18-49 in live-plus-same-day ratings), though the question of how long the series can sustain the overarching “A” mystery without regurgitating past plot points is in the back of producers’ minds. And don’t expect a spinoff a la Ravenswood, at least “not this season,” says King.
“I can laterally shift the decision right over to Marlene because I know I’m going to take her lead,” says Dougherty. “When the distant day dawns, when we say, ‘Oh, we have to go to work today,’ that may be time for us to [call it a day]. But not right now. We’re having too much fun.”
“It’s very important for me that this show ends when it should end and not go on beyond,” says King. “I don’t want to beat a dead horse. I don’t want to linger. We’ve got a story we know we want to tell. When it feels like we don’t want to tell that story anymore, it’s time for it to end.”
Pretty Little Liars returns June 10 at 8 p.m. on ABC Family.
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