Pretty Little Liars: Summer School Is the Juicy, Bloody Sequel Teen Drama Dreams Are Made Of

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Pretty Little Liars: Summer School Is the Juicy, Bloody Sequel Teen Drama Dreams Are Made Of

Forget ice cold lemonade, you know what’s really the most refreshing treat for a hot summer day? A juicy, campy, dramatic, bloody teen drama, and thankfully, Max’s Pretty Little Liars delivers all that and more in its Summer School sequel. 

Picking up six months after the recapture of last season’s mysterious “A” Archie Waters following his grand escape in the final moments of Episode 10, Summer School welcomes us back to the sleepy town of Millwood, where our favorite Little Liars are now facing a fate worse than death: summer school. Turns out, being stalked and tortured by a masked madman for the majority of your sophomore year of high school will cause your grades to slip (who would’ve thought?), so Imogen (Bailee Madison), Tabby (Chandler Kinney), Noa (Maia Reficco), Mouse (Malia Pyles), and Faran (Zaria) are forced to do morning summer school sessions if they want to move on to junior year. But, of course, it wouldn’t be Millwood without something going bump in the night: Bloody Rose Waters—a mythological bastardization of Archie’s real-life mother—has been seen stalking around town, and has her sights set once again on these poor final girls. As they attempt to balance summer school with new jobs, new flings, and an even more rock-solid friendship between the five of them, these Liars are ready to face the new horrors head on, together. 

The opening episode of this second season does a lot to usher the story forward following that crazy cliffhanger ending, so much so that the first seven minutes are like a sprint to the finish line to complete the story that began two years and 10 episodes ago. But once it settles into the rhythm of this season and the narrative being built in these (unfortunately paltry) eight episodes, then it reaches the same highs as the first time around. Most importantly, that extremely traumatic first season isn’t without consequences, as the torture A (and others) put the Liars through informs almost every detail of this second outing. The girls have begun to do group therapy with original Pretty Little Liars import Dr. Sullivan (Annabeth Gish), attempting to move on with their lives from the unending fear they feel on a daily basis. And while it’s lovely to watch them all get therapized (especially from a familiar face from the original series), it’s how they handle their nightmare beginning all over again that really stands out. From becoming obsessed with the online fever behind Bloody Rose as a coping mechanism to wanting to swing at this bloody bitch head-on, each of the Liars deals with this unfortunate repeat in various different ways—even being as smart as to make a pact to just not answer the phone when they get unknown calls, amazing! 

Much like Season 1, Season 2 truly lives and dies by the chemistry between the five leads, who each step into their own while anchoring the girls firmly to one another. As the season progresses, each episode sequesters one Liar from the group, giving each actress their time to shine in show-stopping final girl performances. Zaria in particular is a force to be reckoned with, bringing a mental and physical strength to her performance as Faran that harkens back to the very best on-screen horror outings. Each Liar cements their scream queen status this season, while still managing to deliver heartbreaking and compelling performances even when their lives aren’t in danger. 

More than anything, this season is just so damn consistent. It’s really difficult to make a good first season, let alone a second season that perfectly follows in those original footsteps while maintaining its overall identity and heart, and Summer School manages to take everything we loved about Original Sin and emulate it while elevating the gore, the scares, and the stakes. And, of course, the season still thrives in its similarities to the original PLL and features some signature Riverdalien flair (even if this season’s culty church plot rings potentially a little too close to Riverdale’s The Farm, with Kelly’s mother acting as a dead-ringer for Penelope Blossom). 

The only major bummer about this cruel summer is its shortened episode count, which feels slightly stifling at times. Showrunners Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Lindsay Calhoon Bring practice an admirable amount of restraint to keep the story contained to its eight-episode order (five of which were available for review), but I can’t help but wonder what this series could blossom into if it were given the time and space to really thrive. The various threads could be even more twisty, the relationships even more juicy, and the drama even more suspenseful if the series didn’t have to be as concerned with balancing an intriguing mystery yarn with all its other ambitions. But with that being said, this season is extremely well balanced and well paced, never feeling too overstuffed or stretched thin for its runtime. 

Overall, Pretty Little Liars: Summer School is an undeniable win for the teen drama. The genre has floundered and suffered over the past decade as streaming has fundamentally changed TV as we know it, but this series still harkens back to teen dramas of old in all the best ways while always feeling new and fresh. It’s a true delight to have these Liars back on our screens once again, colored by summertime horror homages and an absolutely killer soundtrack. Last season, Original Sin dared to bring a still-warm franchise back from the dead, and Summer School continues to prove that this campy, bloody teen drama has so many more scares and secrets left in its tank (hopefully for many more seasons to come). 

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School premieres Thursday, May 9th on Max. 

Anna Govert is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and her unshakable love of complicated female villains, you can follow her @annagovert.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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