Mark your calendars: The moment at which ABC Family swallowed the CW Kool-Aid can be pinpointed as this tonight, when “Pretty Little Liars” debuts.
Based on the best-selling series by Sara Shepard (whose next book in the franchise will publish concurrently), “Liars” features all the right CW elements: impossibly lovely “kids” dealing with grown-up situations; an absence of responsible parenting; and a dark, possibly supernatural secret. It’s not a great show, but it is an excellent, compelling introduction for young adults into the leering, schadenfreude-filled world of primetime soaps.
A year ago, a high school clique of girls lost their shared Queen Bee BFF, who disappeared in mid-late-night gossip session. Now, one girl and her family are returning to town after a year spent in Iceland, and all of the remaining young ladies have pursued interests other than friendship. They also have various skeletons in their closets (shoplifting, hot for teacher, lusting after siblings’ boyfriends, lesbian exploration) and are starting to receive messages from “A” threatening to unearth those secrets.
On top of everything, they’re complicit in something called the “Jenna Thing.” With 100 loose threads, this “I Know What You Did Last Summer”-derived story requires just one tug to unravel the whole sweater.
Not a bad lead-up, one which appears to hew closely to the books. The overall look of the show — dark shades, ominous tones — creates a subtle, moody atmosphere, and the puzzle’s resolution seems worth tuning in for. Alas, this fails to cover up the flat, unconvincing acting and impossibly composed leads (if these are teenagers, then I’m Pauline Kael), and one can only hope that the obvious solutions suggested in the pilot are merely red herrings.
For a particular, unsophisticated audience, “Liars” portends a good future. Sure, there’s a lot here that sustains more eye-rolling than interested stares, but a little patience might be warranted. Only with future episodes can “Liars” prove whether it’s “Desperate Housewives” for tweens or just another trashy, pretty little error.
Airdate: 8-9 p.m. Tuesday, June 8 (ABC Family)
Production: Alloy Entertainment, Warner Horizon Television
Cast: Troian Bellisario, Ashley Benson, Holly Marie Combs, Lucy Hale, Ian Harding, Bianca Lawson, Laura Leighton, Chad Lowe, Shay Mitchell, Nia Peeples, Sasha Pieterse
Executive producers: I. Marlene King, Les Morgenstein, Bob Levy, Oliver Goldstick
Developed and written by: I. Marlene King
Based on books by: Sara Shepard
Director: Lesli Linka Glatter
Director of photography: Dana Gonzales
Production designers: Brent Thomas, Rachel Kamerman
Costume designers: Maya Mani, Mandi Line
Casting: Zane/Pillsbury, Coreen Mayrs, Heike Brandstatter