‘Pretty Little Liars: Summer School’ Adds Sapphic Romance to the Worthwhile Reboot

There’s a new generation of Pretty Little Liars, and they’re here to bring more secrets, more ominous text messages, more evil twins, and of course, more queer drama. Or, rather, the new generation from Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin is back for a second round with the renamed Pretty Little Liars: Summer School.

Fourteen years after we first met the Rosewood Liars, we meet a group of girls a few miles away in Millwood who come to occasionally call themselves the Losers: Imogen, the pregnant teen; Noa, the track star; Mouse, the nerdy one; Faran, the ballerina; and Tabitha, the movie buff who named the group after the kids in It. The five girls, previously not friends, are brought together by a mysterious stranger who seems to know things about their moms they never knew. Specifically, about how their moms were bullies in high school, and how their daughters are going to pay for their misdeeds.

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School, all five of the main Liars hugging each other

Make it last forever, friendship never ends.

In the first season, there are, of course, some queer characters. (Marlene King wouldn’t let us go without.) For example, Mouse has two moms, one of whom is played by Broadway legend Lea Salonga. Elodie also had a secret affair with Angela Waters when they were teenagers, the mysterious figure at the heart of the entire mystery. Also Mouse’s boyfriend is trans and played by trans actor Jordan Gonzalez.

Only the first two episodes of the second season are out so far, and it is already adding more queerness to the mix. Joining the girls at summer school is Jen Fox. Noa gets a little squirrely when she comes in, and when they meet up in the bathroom after class, we know why: Noa and Jen had a bit of a…thing when they were in juvie. They meet up for coffee to reconnect, and Jen asks about her boyfriend. Noa almost sounds embarrassed when she admits they’re still together.

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School, Noa and Jen on a park bench

It’s fine… it’s cool…

Noa introduces her boyfriend to Jen when Jen gets a job working at the same pizza parlor as her, but it’s almost as if Jen said “Good Luck, Babe,” because next time Noa is in bed with her boyfriend, she realizes she can’t stop thinking about Jen.

And I have a feeling this is just the beginning of this chapter in Noa and Jen’s story.

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School, Noa and Jen snuggling in juvie

Noa failed to previously mention her guest stint on Orange is the New Black.

Original Sin, was about A, their giant creepy stalker, but Summer School, is all about Bloody Rose Waters. Is she just a rumor, an urban legend, a fictional “Spooky Spaghetti” (this universe’s Creepy Pasta) story? Or is there really another killer on the loose?

Catching up on Original Sin, all I knew was Imogen was going to give her baby to Ezra and Aria, because I remember the public outcry. Of all the couples fans of the original series wanted to hear about having a happy ever after, that was the lowest on the list. Not to mention the fact that this show went out of its way to admonish relationships that could have mirrored Ezra and Aria, and that the girls took many a stand against sexual violence. Well, it seems the cry was heard, because they undid that mistake with one (admittedly a bit hilarious) line: in the beginning of this new season, we find out Imogen’s baby went to a gay couple instead, because Imogen pulled out last minute when she “got a weird vibe” from Ezra. Chef’s kiss. A perfect fix.

I was a huge fan of the original Pretty Little Liars series. I was in the #BooRadleyVanCullen hashtag every week, I loved every second of the girls’ wacky and wild journey, stealing faces, hiding money in lasagna boxes, running from grown men who drank full glasses of milk. I watched its sister show Ravenswood, I read recaps, I read (and maybe even wrote) fanfic. Emily Fields was a pivotal character for me as I came out pretty much the same year she did. So nothing to me will ever be the original series.

When I tried Pretty Little Liars: Perfectionists, I had high hopes, and they were quickly dashed. Maybe it was too soon, airing less than two years after the original finished, maybe I needed more time to see a new group of teens in the original Liars shoes. Or maybe something didn’t click for me with that show in particular, despite my love for Sofia Carson and the fact that Mona was Vanderwaaling all over the place. I don’t think I was the only one, because the show only lasted one season.

Because of all that, I didn’t have high hopes going into this newest reboot. And maybe it’s time, maybe it’s something else, but I’m happy to report that I had a damn blast watching Original Sin, and I’m excited for what Summer School has in store. I almost wish the show wasn’t called Pretty Little Liars, because I might have watched it sooner. Or maybe even Original Sin: A Pretty Little Liars Story. Because while it is a reboot — and based on the same source materials of the same name — it’s not a remake. It’s not trying to be or replace the original Liars. It does have some of the key characteristics of a Pretty Little Liars story — the iconic theme song, secret texts from A, twin subplots, wild crimes being committed while the police remain absolutely useless, teenagers having to be the adults in any given situation — but while the first one felt more…campy, more ridiculous and outlandish, like a comic book come to life, Original Sin and Summer School feel a little more grounded.

Some of the storylines are still wild, but the vibe and tone is a little more serious, a little more dramatic, a little more toned down. It’s more along the lines of Cruel Summer or the Scream TV series. It’s very possible this is the tone the original series was going for, and maybe having a 10-episode series is easier to do that with than one that is 20-25 episodes long. (For example, we find out who this A is by the end of the season, instead of having a few seasons where the writers didn’t even know who they were.)

Plus, since this show is on Max instead of Freeform, it means they can swear. And let me tell you, there are situations these girls go through that only a well-placed f-bomb will do.

Both seasons of the show have some classic horror elements to it, the first season having a lot of Halloween and Friday the 13th elements, a dash of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There was a Saw theme to one episode, and even hints of Scream and Carrie. This season has a little more of the “is this supernatural or not?” Yellowjackets vibe. Overall this show leans into genre more than the original series did; where the original was a teen drama where horror things happen, this show feels more like a horror show where teen drama happens.

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School, also feels a little more out of time than the first. It’s almost giving Riverdale, with old-timey cans of soda, old-fashioned radios, diners and ice cream shoppes, despite the girls having iPhones and the internet. It makes sense, that this show would be a bit of a blend of PLL and Riverdale, given it has overlap in creators, and especially with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa at the helm. Also, according to the first season, they’re now in the same universe, because they reference the Sisters of Quiet Mercy in Riverdale at one point. (Therefore, I’m going to go ahead and assume Katy Keene was the result of an Aria Montgomery mental breakdown and/or a novel she wrote and maybe none of it even really happened at all.)

This show also seems to take things more seriously. Where in the original, no one pushed the Ezra/Aria relationship nearly enough, Tabby’s mother almost takes her boss’s head off for even making her teen daughter stay alone with him at work too often. Where Emily nonchalantly said, “You may have heard, I killed a guy,” Imogen has a proper mental breakdown about all the things they went through in just six months’ time. The show also doesn’t treat sexual assault as a taboo thing to talk about. It takes the girls a little while to get there, but when they do, they use the word “rape” and “rapist” and don’t avoid calling the ugliness out. They talk about murder and suicide and assault with more gravitas, and call out trauma when they see it.

The girls sadly do not read their texts out in unison, but they are a bit smarter about how they survive A’s attacks than the original Liars. They share their secrets with each other, they talk to each other, support and trust each other, take self-defense classes, and even change their damn phone numbers and make them private. They may be trauma bonded, but they love each other and it shows.

I’ll admit, I only jumped on board this reboot when I saw the trailer for the new season had girls kissing. (I am but a simple gay.) But I’m glad I finally watched. While nothing will compare to the wild and crazy and fun 2010-2017 whackadoo period of time on TV, the tone here is different and it’s working. If you like teen drama, fictional murder, and final girls — and go in with no Pretty-Little-Liars-shaped expectations — I think you’ll really like Original Sin and Summer School.

Even though I came for the queers, I’m staying for the compelling mysteries, the horror elements, and the teen girl friendships.

The first two episode of Pretty Little Liars: Summer School are now streaming on Max.

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Valerie Anne

Just a TV-loving, Twitter-addicted nerd who loves reading, watching, and writing about stories. One part Kara Danvers, two parts Waverly Earp, a dash of Cosima and an extra helping of my own brand of weirdo.

Valerie has written 560 articles for us.

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