fh14: (Momotaro [Free!])
fh14 ([personal profile] fh14) wrote2017-06-27 09:46 am
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An Ode to "Pretty Little Liars"

2010 was probably the worst year of my life. My first year of college had gone so poorly that I transferred schools, I was dealing with the full brunt of not being straight, and found my anxiety disorder so difficult to manage that I would go days without leaving my bed. It was also the year I discovered a lot of media that was and continues to be extremely important to me. One of them was a summer show that sounded interesting enough that I was willing to buffer a full episode of it on Hulu using phone data.

I had assumed Pretty Little Liars would be a fun stopgap show to fill in time between seasons of Glee and Gossip Girl. But as my affection for those shows slowly died, my esteem for PLL consistently rose. In a television landscape where gay characters were only just starting to become more than sidekicks and caricatures, PLL gave me Emily Fields, Maya St. Germain, and Paige McCullers. Hell, even Alison DiLaurentis provided a more dynamic depiction of what it meant to be gay that I had ever seen in the past. For all the good that Glee did for LGBT representation, and it was a lot, it's characters never felt as real to me as the ones on PLL. In fact, it was the twentieth episode of the first season that delivered the type of scene I most needed to see. Paige stands before Emily, holding back tears, and says "If I say it out loud... If I say, I'm gay... The whole world is gonna change." It was one of the first times I had ever seen something like what I was going through depicted on screen, and it helped me be a little bit braver.

The impact the show had on my life goes beyond that, though. I found recaps done by Heather Hogan, at first filled with jokes but soon with emotion, that provided the perfect companion piece to the show every week. I got introduced to new ideas and perspectives that broadened my horizons, and jokes about Jenna running a blind artists' craft fair and Ezria just being the absolute worst. I saw mentions of a podcast called "BrosWatchPLLToo" and was weirded out by the name before eventually listening and becoming addicted. I took the time to look at all the moving parts of what made a television show great and not so great - an interest that I thought was gone for good after my one terrible year of trying to pursue it as a college major. Pulling running jokes out of the most obscure throwaway lines and spinning theories based on circumstantial evidence only to have them collapse an episode later (RIP "X" Theory). The show grew and evolved and become something very different from when it first began, pushing boundaries and sparking discussion about what is and isn't acceptable for a television show to do.

It's an uncomfortable truth that Pretty Little Liars is a show that's not free of bad or outright harmful storylines. Brushing past the near constant fear that the show was gonna de-gay Emily at some point, the show has become notorious for charging forward with material that rewards some pretty ugly practices and beliefs in society. The Aria and Ezra relationship is one filled with gas-lighting and abuse that's acknowledged by the show but never rectified. Even Ian Harding, whose portrayal is pretty much the only saving grace of the Ezra character at this point, has stated, unprompted, in interviews that Ezria is not a good or healthy relationship. However, it's one with a vocal fanbase, and I'm inclined to believe that the network forced the show's hand to extend the life of that coupling. The other shadow cast on this show is the sheer amount of queer women it has killed, including a trans woman who was revealed as the ultimate villain of the show's middle stretch. BrosWatchPLLToo did an interview with one of the writers, Joseph Dougherty, that touched on the issue. Dougherty surmised that the decision to go in that direction was made long before the cultural conversation about how transpeople exist and are depicted onscreen had really begun, and for better or worse they weren't going to change it. Defending a show's controversial narrative decision is relatively common, as are the pointed criticisms such as the ones outlined in this recap by Heather Hogan (though I disagree with many of the points she makes about Mona specifically). After I Marlene King defended the decision to kill of our beloved Sara Harvey on twitter, Benjamin Light tweeted this, which is something I still think about whenever these debates come up - "I can understand the natural inclination of a writer to resist any restrictions on the story they want to tell, BUT that doesn’t mean your writing exists in a vacuum outside of the current culture. And sometimes avoiding a trope means avoiding a cliche, and if that cliche hurts some people to read/view, and avoiding it makes your story better, it’s a win-win."

I'd be remiss not to talk about the light of my life Sara Felicia Harvey, better known as "Shower" due to her love of taking showers. A character conceived to patch up narrative inconsistencies, Sara arrived with a gasp and then a thud, as the shock of such an obscure reference to a minor season four plot wore off and we were left with a character that was essentially a dud. Her quirks were so bizarre and specific that the whole character become elevated to meme status along with her moniker. This eventually lead to my first real foray into a twitter fandom thing where I ran a parody account for Sara Harvey for roughly a month before she was killed off.

Towards the end of this show, the most rewarding experiences I've really had have been on twitter. I've met so many amazing people who are all enraptured and frustrated by the same show. A show where buildings come alive to try and murder people, where girls with creepy pig puppets make creepy doll art to cope with unimaginable trauma, and where one girl took eight showers a day and her employer took none. It's a show where dreams were born, murdered, buried in the DiLaurentis-Hastings backyard, and then born again anew as something different. Better? Perhaps, or perhaps not. But it's always been a lot of fun along the way.

Tonight I'll watch the finale of Pretty Little Liars and probably be disappointed when Ezra isn't the person Twincer is working with as A.D., but I'll also know that I am a very different person from the scared and unstable kid who pressed play on that first episode back in 2010. Pretty Little Liars had a part in that, and no matter what happens I'll always be grateful for that.

"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard" - Spencer Hastings, quoting Winnie the Pooh in 6x10

Watch Status Roundup:
Digimon Tamers - 26/51
Cardcaptor Sakura - 27/75
The X-Files - 74/210
The Golden Girls Extended Universe - 76/442

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