playing catch-up

The Best Things About the First Three Seasons of Pretty Little Liars

PRETTY LITTLE LIARS - “If These Dolls Could Talk” Photo: Ron Tom/Disney

We need to talk about a television series. A series that, in just three short years, has featured spies, lies, adultery, secret love children, and murders of every kind: premeditated, accidental, attempted, successful, staged suicide, and buried alive. A series whose heroines have the crazy conviction of Carrie Mathison, the seeing-dead-people hallucinations of Don Draper, the whatever-it-takes ethos of Zoe Barnes, and the shiny, flowing hair of Tami Taylor.

I am speaking, of course, of Pretty Little Liars. Somehow, this phenomenon had not pushed its way into the ranks of Vulture’s hallowed recap roster. But starting tonight, I (previously seen on this site covering Parks and Recreation) will be recapping the show’s fourth season. To get back in the swing of things, I’ve compiled some of the craziest/best moments from the show’s first three seasons. I couldn’t even begin to be comprehensive, given that just about every moment on this show is a WTF one, so leave your favorites in the comments and send them my way on Twitter (@jessicagolds)! Together, we can bask in just how bananas this show can be.

Here’s some background for rookies. In the fictional Philadelphia suburb of Rosewood, we fade in on four girls with nightmares in their hearts: Spencer Hastings (like Tracy Flick, if Tracy Flick used “summer” as a verb), Hanna Marin (Ashley “Spring Break forever” Benson), Emily Fields (Shay Mitchell, almost too attractive to exist), and Aria Montgomery (Aria’s sense of style, in a nutshell: sometimes, feathers in the hair! Other times, pants that look like the Saved by the Bell credits!) Their clique crumbles when the manipulative leader of their pack, Alison DiLaurentis, goes missing. A year after Ali’s disappearance, the four Liars start getting messages from a psycho stalker who goes by “A” and who threatens to ruin their lives on the regular by revealing all their dirty secrets. In the pilot, Ali’s body is found. The Liars go all Scooby gang and try to solve Ali’s murder while figuring out who “A” is and what “A” wants before whoever killed Ali decides to add four more bodies to the death count.

Best examples of the show not effing around
In a prank gone horribly wrong, Ali and the Liars BLINDED Jenna. Then, at Mona’s birthday party, “A” hit Hanna with a car. Toto, we’re not throwing Nairtinis anymore.

Biggest parental sacrifice
Hanna, the queen bee with a shoplifting habit, got into trouble with the law. Hanna’s mom can apparently only save her daughter from prison by having sex with Detective Wilden.

Plot point most likely to factor into a dubious article about new baby names
In the pilot, Aria found out that Ezra Fitz, a cute guy she hooked up with in a bar bathroom, was her English teacher. ZOINKS. Regular viewers have spent years awkwardly dancing around the issue that, while the two are clearly having sex, said activity would qualify as statutory rape here in reality. On the bright side, we’re just one TV show away from a “girl has inappropriate romantic relationship with a guy named FitzNYT trend story.

Most epic parentage
Aria’s dad, played by Chad Lowe, cheated on her mom, Piper from Charmed, with Meredith, played by Jodie Sawyer, star of Center Stage. Before Aria can tell her mother about her dad’s adultery, “A” beats her to it.

Most heartwarming moment
Emily’s coming out story line was so understated and gracefully handled that you would be forgiven for thinking the plot wandered in from some other, less sudsy, program.

Least convincing teenager
If your reaction upon seeing Maya was, “Wow, she looks significantly older than your average teenager/everyone else in this cast,” you would be correct! Maya has been in high school for over thirteen years; actress Bianca Lawson is 34 years old and was slaying at Sunnydale High back in 1997.

Best disappearing act
After a showdown in a church, wherein Ian (Spencer’s sister’s then-fiancée) tried to kill Spencer and got shoved down the clock tower by a mysterious hooded figure, Ian’s body vanished from the scene of the crime and didn’t turn up until the middle of the following season. (This lead the police to believe that the Liars made the whole thing up, although that could possibly just be a problem re: branding). Ian’s dead body was discovered alongside a suicide note taking responsibility for Ali’s murder. It’s … pretty gross. The Liars found out that Ian’s supposed suicide note was a fake, made up entirely of texts from “A.”

Most amazing facial expression
Hanna, checking out Caleb in the shower:

Best/worst way to die
Sleuthing revealed that Ali was both buried alive and clubbed in the back of the head with a blunt instrument. Spencer found Jason’s broken hockey stick buried in her yard. As you can imagine, this did not make Jason look like the most innocent person. (In related news, Jason is so handsome it’s almost ridiculous. He looks like a guy off the cover of a Sweet Valley High novel.)

Most in-character moment
When Spencer goes bad, she even remembers to paint her nails black. Her attention to detail, even while evil, is perfection. Never change, Spencer.

Best unintentionally hilarious recurring theme
The idea that all these kids are, like, secretly Rhodes scholars who use literary references and dead languages in their day-to-day lives. Case in point: Ian, Jason, and Garrett were in the self-proclaimed “N.A.T. club.” This stands for Nos Animadverto Totus, Latin for “we see all.” Other case in point: Alison used to wear a dark wig around town and go by the alias “Vivian Darkbloom,” an anagram for “Vladimir Nabokov.” That’s cute that they think I believe Ali ever read Lolita, or that she even knew the definition of an anagram. The only people in this entire show who would be smart enough for that are Spencer and Hanna’s mom.

Strongest proof that everything is connected
Sharp listeners will recall the PLL catchy/creepy theme song, the Pierces’s “Secret,” from an early episode of Gossip Girl. It all makes sense, you guys.

Creepiest setting for big plot reveals
This one is a tie between the mental hospital that may or may not be identical to that orphanage where Voldemort grew up and the Lost Woods Resort, which is this Hitchcockian motel where people go to get axe murdered/have no cell phone reception/build a secret lair to serve as headquarters for cyberstalking the eff out of a bunch of teenagers.

Craziest reveal about who is working with “A”
First came Mona, surprising but not altogether shocking. Then came Toby — right after he and Spencer slept together for the first time. Pick your jaw up off the floor, okay, there you go. And then … SPENCER. Spencer is working with “A” and everyone is a double agent now. Tune in tonight!

The Best Things About Pretty Little Liars