When Alison DiLaurentis uttered one of her most iconic lines, “It’s immortality, my darlings,” during Season 1 of Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars, the series was just a freshman teen drama. Now, three spinoffs and almost 200 combined episodes later, the Pretty Little Liars franchise feels immortal. Conjured by Riverdale’s Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s Lindsay Calhoon Bring as co-executive producers, this newest addition to the PLL canon, which includes failed spin-offs Ravenswood and Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists, leaves Rosewood (and Freeform) behind to thrust us into the world of Original Sin.
The HBO Max series introduces us to Millwood, Pennsylvania, a town much different to the Rosewood we once knew. Taking place 20 years after the tragic death of social outcast Angela Waters nearly tore their community apart, we follow a new group of Little Liars as they fight to uncover what happened in 1999, and why a new “A” (an anonymous, all-knowing tormenter) has come to make them pay for it. Of course, it wouldn’t be Pretty Little Liars if each Liar wasn’t harboring their own secret. Pulled together by another horrible tragedy (people drop like flies in Millwood), pregnant teen Imogen (Bailee Madison), cinefile Tabby (Chandler Kinney), ballerina Faran (Zaria), delinquent Noa (Maia Reficco), and tech-nerd Mouse (Malia Pyles) join forces to uncover their parents’ secrets while attempting to keep their own close to the chest.
In the first five episodes available for review, Original Sin opens numerous mystery boxes, each of them more intriguing than the last. The series splits its episodes between two distinct timelines—1999 and the present—and each has its own mysteries to offer. In 1999, we follow the parents of our new Liars, slowly discovering the “original sin” that the series is named after. In the present, a staggering amount of death and tragedy brings the Liars together, with “A” always looming over their shoulders. The heart of this series lives within the friendship built among these new Liars, and the first five episodes excel at bringing them together. Bound by a shared hatred of their school bully, it’s impossible not to cheer these girls on, even as they put themselves and their futures at risk. Madison, Kinney, Zaria, Reficco, and Pyles have wonderful chemistry as well, selling this newly cemented friendship within just the first few episodes.
Plot-wise, though, Original Sin takes a little while to really find its groove and proper pacing. But the mysteries continue to build as the Liars balance being amateur sleuths with being 15 year-old girls. With a much creepier Michael Myers-esque “A” and a well-earned TV-MA rating, Original Sin cranks the dial on the Pretty Little Liars we used to know. But while this is a PLL property, don’t expect a carbon copy of the original series. Original Sin is a show with its own goals and unique voice. While some things may stay the same (like the classic Pretty Little Liars Halloween episode and the creepy omnipotence of “A”), keep an open mind with the characters, their relationships, and their storylines.
With that said, it does seem that HBO Max’s sequel is not immune to some of the sins of the original, including an Ezra and Aria-esque dynamic—though, I think it’s supposed to make your skin crawl this time around. Additionally, the long-standing Pretty Little Liars tradition of awful cops continues, harkening back to Detective Wilden from the original series. Original Sin also takes a cue from later seasons of PLL by bringing the mothers into the mystery, but this time, much earlier and to greater success.
Naturally, with Aguirre-Sacasa’s involvement, this series has some shades of The CW’s Riverdale as well, especially in the way the shots are composed and how the series blends the macabre with teen drama. The episodes are also titled with chapters, in classic Aguirre-Sacasa style. Tabby, in particular, is the character that the signature pop culture references are funneled through, akin to what audiences have seen on Riverdale and Chilling Adventures. (Think Veronica’s iconic line, “Are you guys familiar with the works of Truman Capote? I’m Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but this place is strictly In Cold Blood”).
Overall, for fans of the original series, this show is a must-watch. It takes all the messed-up intrigue and unbelievable mystery of Pretty Little Liars and puts a fresh spin on it. While it’s certainly not perfect (some pacing troubles are a little glaring), it absolutely delivers on its promise to bring more of that classic teenage drama to our screens once again, with a bit of a sinister twist. For those unfamiliar with Pretty Little Liars and its expansive world, don’t be discouraged by so much history—this show is a perfect place to jump in.
TV has changed so much since the original series was on our screens (Original Sin’s shorter, 10-episode first season is emblematic of that), but this Pretty Little Liars spinoff is reminiscent of teen dramas of olde in all the best ways. Even though it’s only been three years since the Pretty Little Liars universe met its unceremonious end, Original Sin dares to ask: “Did you miss me?”
And the answer? A-bsolutely.
Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin premieres on HBO Max with three episodes on July 28th; subsequent episodes will air over three consecutive weeks.
Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in Chicago. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.
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