If I were to ask you your favorite show what would you say? The answers vary from classic sitcoms like Friends to saucy shows like Scandal, and once someone said, “Honestly, I love myself a good SpongeBob episode.” Just as the answers vary, so does the impact of those characters on our television screens.
When I think of my favorite show I envision the town Rosewood, Pennsylvania that is home to a group of girlfriends who have survived high school, an anonymous serial killer who haunts them through social media, and the stress of fitting into skinny jeans together. The show I am describing is Freeform’s, formerly known as ABC Family, 7 season hit Pretty Little Liars (PLL). Based on I. Marlene King’s YA novel of the same name, PLL first aired on June 8, 2010. The show blossomed into seven seasons rich in drama, forward thinking fashion, and a slew of story lines that often left me saying, “Wait what?!”
While dozens of characters have inhabited Rosewood, the core cast is composed of Spencer Hastings (Troian Bellisario), Hanna Marin (Ashley Benson), Aria Montgomery (Lucy Hale), Emily Fields (Shay Mitchell), and the center of it the infamous Alison DiLaurenthis (Sasha Pieterse). These girls form the fan entitled group simply called “The Liars.” From lying to their parents, the law, and occasionally even each other, these girls have definitely earned their name. Yet, I want to go back for a second of reflection. I should say that these women earned the title of The Liars. Because in these past 7 seasons these characters, and cast members, have shared nearly 7 years of their lives with fans like me. The Liars and I have basically grown up together. I went from teen to adult just like the Rosewood girls became Rosewood women.
I mention this to time span to begin to reveal how integral this show has been to my life for nearly the past decade.
Pretty Little Liars began airing the summer before I started high school, keep in mind that I am now a junior in college. Along with the advancements in the PLL plot, I too navigated the turmoil of adolescents into young adulthood. This show has been such an anchor for me because in the times that I needed something consistent to give me a sense of security, this show offered me that sense of normal. While the world of PLL may seem like the most unusual experience for any group of friends, the Liars adventure has paralleled some of my own struggles. From dealing with cyber bullies, to forming my identity, and even dealing with going out-of-state for school, my weekly dose of the Rosewood drama has given me some cues on dealing with my real-world demons.
By no means are the Liars a perfect set of friends. They each have their own vices. Emily can be too trusting, Hanna can be hot headed, Spencer can be too controlling, but each other own Achilles heel’s complement one other. Together the girls form a cohesive group of friends who genuinely love each other and support one another through thick and thin. This kind of relationship is, I think, the purest and most endearing.
As mentioned, the Liars each have their own skills that often lead to issues. But throughout the series we witness the girls mature into women who make thoughtful decisions and succeed when they put their hearts to it. Both alone and collectively the Liars grow and conquer each A that comes their way.
I want to discuss how witnessing the Liars individual growth has been such a moving experience for me. Throughout the series, the viewer catches glimpses of the Liars before their high school debut. In these clips, and even in the first few seasons, we see old insecurities haunt the girls. The two that resonated with me were Hanna’s issues with her weight and Emily’s inability to address her sexuality. I have never been one to look at. I still don’t take my shirt off at the beach or even when I’m with friends at the pool. Hanna was the same way. She hid behind baggy sweaters and kept her aspirations for fashion hidden because she doubted that someone of her physique would belong in that world. A sentiment I can relate to all too well.
Despite Hanna’s issue with weight, and later an eating disorder, it’s the unwavering love from her friends that helps her develop self-love. The same narrative arch follows Emily. Denying her homosexuality made her feel isolated and afraid constantly until she gathered the courage to come out. Instead of pressing her or probing her girlfriends, the Liars are fully supportive of Emily and have even encouraged her to pursue her loves. Viewing this during a time when I began forming my identity, I felt reassured that my friends would accept me no matter where on the spectrum I sat. It was the same friends that I would talk all things PLL about that I told I identified as bisexual. Being a Latinx male who identifies as queer is an everyday struggle, due to the cultural norms of machismo, but seeing a queer woman of color on a show aimed at teens gave me a kind of representation that was not mainstream yet. Thus, one of the reasons that PLL has been so good to me is because it understood the real struggles that teens deal with and it showed me that not only was it not impossible, but I did not have to face them alone.
While I do not have the body of an Ambercrombie model and I don’t have a list of people pursuing me romantically, I do have an amazing set of friends that have stayed with me through hell and back. I don’t know why they still put up with me, but they mean more to me than anything else in this crazy beautiful journey I call my life. This is something I learned from seeing how Hanna and Emily have both moved on from their past selves into the mature women they are now.
Another reason the Liars story has meant so much to me is because of how all the iterations of their tormentor A reflects the real-world issue of harassment on cyber space. I do not want to share too much of this story, because it is not one I have ever shared outside of closed groups, but I was once a victim of cyber bullying. It’s not easy to admit this because being part of a generation that is supposed to rule the internet this could be perceived a sign of weakness. I see it as a sign of strength that I know the ramifications of online discourse. The Liars are constantly targeted through media. The menacing texts and videos may not compare to a cadaver stuffed in the trunk of a car, but when you are on the receiving end of one these attacks it is paralyzing.
It was the first year of high school when a group of friends from middle school began posting on my Facebook page, yeah Facebook I know, their slander. From saying “you think you’re so much better than us, well you’re lucky we even hung out with you!” to accusing me of, “talking shit is all you do, well at least everyone knows you’re fake now.” Not only were these comments not grounded in truth, but my high school friends began to question my integrity. I eventually deleted my Facebook and did not start it up again until I went to college. The effect of this torment was that I was haphazard in reconnecting with the online world. I started with Snapchat and steadily began to increase my presence on social media until I reached the non-Kardashion level I am at now.
A key to the Liars surviving, and sometimes even beating A, has been because of the vulnerability and honest they demonstrate to each other. When a Liar gets an A text they share it with the group. If they all get the text, then they converge to attack the issue together. When my feed was plagued with the toxic posts I sought advice from my friends on what to do. Not only did they advise me on what to do, but they united to defend me online and in person. The example of the Liars not allowing A to break them apart is an enduring example of the power of integrity and loyalty in friendships. That is something we can all swipe right to.
One of the most emotional moments in the series came at the end of season 6A. The Liars discovered A’s identity and it was time for them to roam out of the Rosewood and into the real world. The same time that the girls were prepping to leave Rosewood high I was preparing to head off to Upstate New York to start college. Any of my friends can tell you that I never would have predicted leaving California for school. But when it came time to choose schools, the full-tuition scholarship offered by this private liberal arts school outweighed my desire to sit beach side in Santa Barbara, CA.
The thought of leaving my family and friends I’d known since as far back as middle schools put a heavy weight on my heart. I understood the growth I would experience on the east coast and so I decided that it was time to cross New York off my bucket list. I was shook when I arrived to see Seneca Lake and not the Statue of Liberty. This sentiment echoes when the Liars head their separate ways to attend school and start their careers.
There were dozens of nights when I could not sleep because every morning meant a day less being home. The topic of maintaining long distance friendships became integral to the Tuesday ritual of inviting my friends to watch the newest PLL. I remember clearly on August 11, 2015 the season finale aired and this was when A was revealed to be Ali’s sister CeCe. It was also the last episode for the much discusses 5 year jump the PLL world would have.
This episode aired exactly a week before I left for HWS. Just as the Liars stood together for the last time in front of the DiLaurentis home, this would be the last time I would be with my friends for several months. Our night finished late. At one point, we all fell asleep on the couch at nearly 3 AM because we reflected on the years we had under our belt, and the memories we had yet to make.
When I came back for winter break, you bet that our tradition lived on and my friends arrived to watch the second half of season 6. Laughs filled up the atmosphere, but tears also flowed as it felt so good to feel at home. Just how the Liars all reunited to support Alison through hardship, my friends flocked once they knew I was back. I think the funniest part of all of this is that we always said which character each of us would be in the Liars gang. I swore I was Hanna! But with my current interest being in publishing, I echo some of Aria’s passions.
The story of a group of friends uniting to survive high school and murder scandals not only makes a great teen drama, but it also made for an eloquent way of addressing real concerns that teens and young adults have. I was 14 when Pretty Little Liars started airing, and here I am at 20 still loyal and vigilant to all things PLL. To say that growing up is difficult is an understatement. But to grow up alongside the Liars has made the journey a little less scary. The story of Ali, Aria, Emily, Hanna, and Spencer has given me a kind of companionship that no matter what situation I was in I knew I could count on these girls to provide me with a sense of normal.
I will miss this show dearly, but all good things must come to an end. Just like I am going abroad to England in September, it is time for me to start a brand-new story. This story will of course have some pain, but I like to focus on the beauty and growth that I will find. I say goodbye to the Liars and the town of Rosewood, and hello to the future ahead of me. Never once forgetting what the Liars have taught me.