When Pretty Little Liars first aired back when Freeform was ABC Family, I spent more time researching theories on who “A” was than I did studying for the Precalc class I was on the verge of failing in high school. My friends and I were hooked. The over-the-top text messages, the iconic characters (Alison DiLaurentis remains one the most cruel Mean Girls in history), and the mystery surrounding A had us eagerly sitting in front of our TVs every Tuesday night so we could regroup Wednesday mornings and manically discuss.
Needless to say, I have a strong nostalgic attachment to the OG series, which set my expectations sky-high when HBO Max‘s Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin was announced. After watching the first five episodes of Original Sin, I’m going to take off my rose-colored nostalgia glasses and admit: it has surpassed the original. I should say that I’m surprised by that, but I’m not. Original Sin has taken Pretty Little Liars by the hand and dragged it headfirst into slasher territory, and it’s the best thing that’s happened to the series yet. I’d even take it a step further and say it’s one of the best horror TV shows of the past two decades.
Pretty Little Liars has always been inherently creepy. Originally a series of novels by Sara Sheppard, it tackles themes of paranoia, anxiety, betrayal and revenge. When I’d watched the original television adaptation, I never would’ve categorized it as “horror”, but in retrospect, I realized that the reason it resonated with me so much was because it tapped into the fears that I had as a teenager related to someone knowing my worst secrets and leveraging them against me. The foundation for a complete horror take on the series has always been there, but it was never fully tapped into.
Original Sin’s horror remix is the perfect way of expanding on the themes of its source material. It no longer feels like it’s toeing the line of creepy and scary–see the shot-by-shot recreation of a scene from John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) in the first episode and the extreme tonal shift from the original will become immediately apparent. The creators’ affinity to slashers shines through almost every aspect of the show. The chase scenes are intense, the shots invoke the feeling of always being watched (and potentially spotting someone watching you in the background), and the tension is visceral. There’s also a handful of iconic needle-drops–a staple for a good slasher. Without getting into spoilers, a heavy-metal version of “The Monster Mash” accompanies a certain scene in its Halloween episode perfectly.
Original Sin has plenty of parallels to its namesake as well–a cunning pair of identical twins with nefarious motivations, a new version of the “Jenna Thing” as a central conflict the girls need to surmount, authority figures that leverage their power in unethical ways. But also new, compelling plot-points. A highschooler who is pregnant and considering abortion (which feels especially relevant given current events) takes center stage as a main character. A plotline related to drugs and how they can tear families apart gives depth to the conflict another main character is facing. And this time around, the mothers of the main characters play a larger role in the mystery. The mistakes that they’d made while they were young have left deep scars that are reopening and bleeding into their daughters’ lives–a plotline paralleling Yellowjackets which will surely appeal to its fans.
But perhaps most importantly is the return and remix of the infamous, omnipresent “A”–the mysterious entity that acts as a foil to all of the characters. Always one step ahead, always aware of every secret and ready to capitalize on them, A always seems to be lurking on the horizon. Original Sin takes that last point very literally: A isn’t just a mysterious hooded figure in a crowd anymore, but a full-on slasher that would likely stare down the characters on the street in broad daylight before slowly retreating behind a bush in true Michael Myers fashion.
Despite this, A’s more eerie and indirect methods have returned as well. The iconic A text messages have returned, of course. But the characters and reactions to them this time around seem a lot more true to life, and the personalities of the main crew come off a lot more like how actual teenagers would react to a mystery person blowing their phones up with vague threats. Whereas in the original, the liars would all stand in a circle with eyes and mouths wide after receiving an A text, characters like Noa are much quicker to text back “Who the fuck is this?” The needle of teenage melodrama feels much closer to Euphoria than the original, but never overly-gratuitous or corny–characters will drop terms like “shook” or “gaslight” which could easily come off as an out-of-touch adult trying to sound like a teenager, but they’re delivered in ways and settings that feel authentic. For a teen slasher, that’s a win, but for a show that’s hoping to recruit more Gen Z fans? That’s a must.
My main critique with Original Sin is that I wish I got more time to spend with the five main characters individually. We spend a lot of time with Imogen and Tabby, who are clearly set up to be the main duo of the series. Imogen is headstrong with, at times, a shaky moral compass likely due to the trauma that she has endured, and Tabby is quick-witted with a propensity of quoting horror movies (which she has a deep obsession for: she’ll be a fan-favorite for sure). As for the other three–Faran, Mouse and Noa–we don’t delve too deeply into their motivations and vices. By episode five of the original Pretty Little Liars, viewers are given a firmer grasp of how each of the liars fit into the show, but I don’t think all of Original Sins’ characters are there just yet. Key word: yet. Original Sin has so much room to grow beyond its first five episodes, and despite that flaw, the show succeeds in so many other areas by spending time setting up other conflicts and serving up some pretty gnarly kill scenes a la A.
In truth, I’m already craving the rest of Original Sins’ episodes. I’m right back in that seat that I was in as a teenager, eagerly awaiting the next episode and for other people to watch it so we can start bouncing theories off of one another. I remember when MTV’s Scream television series came out, a big talking point was “How can a TV show pull off being a slasher?” and while I think Scream found success in a lot of ways, I feel confident in saying that what I’ve seen so far of Original Sin is the best television format of a slasher I’ve seen yet. So watch it as soon as you can: I want to hear your A theory!
“Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin” will premiere its ten-episode season on July 28.
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