I'll let you in on a secret, but...ssshhh! Don't tell anyone.
Okay, there was a point a couple months back where I was marching through this sprawling open-air mall in Huntington Beach, furiously texting with my BFF Caitlin about who we think "A" might be and how beautiful Mr. Fitz is and how the Hefty Hanna flashback fat suit is the boon of our life and existence and how we can't believe Lucas could do that to her if he likes her anywhere near as much as he says he does and how... Anyway, as I stood there in front of a boutique cupcake shop, scrolling through eighty-four pages of text messages about Pretty Little Liars, all of a sudden it hit me: I'm a fourteen year girl.
I know! This is coming from a guy who's in the top three percentile of nerd-dom worldwide, complete with lifesize, cardboard standees of multiple Doctor Who characters downstairs. I'm supposed to be droning on about Game of Thrones and how much has gotten lost in adapting the original novels or whatever, but no, the most excited I've gotten about a TV show in the past year and change is a primetime teen soap on ABC Family.
I guess I'm starting the review part of the review now. Just to get this out of the way first, though, Pretty Little Liars is a very, very heavily serialized show...not so much the sort of thing where you can dive into season two blindly and get what's going on. If you haven't been initiated yet, you'd probably be better off reading DVD Talk's review of the first season and devouring that boxed set afterwards instead. Okay? Okay.
Pretty Little Liars' sophomore season picks up exactly where last year's finalé closed out, with the girls' prime suspect for the murder of Alison DiLaurentis (Sasha Pieterse) dangling lifelessly in a church. For a couple of minutes, anyway; by the time the cops roll in, the body's gone, and our four little liars are left holding the bag. The girls' parents start to clue in that maybe their all-consuming obsession with Alison's death isn't the healthiest thing in the world, forcing them to go see a therapist (Annabeth Gish) and ::audible gasp!:: spend some time apart for a change.
...and, y'know, that's okay. They all have way more than enough to keep 'em busy anyway. I mean, their all-seeing, all-knowing nemesis -- known only as A -- is still remotely tormenting them relentlessly via text messages, gift baskets, and creepy doll care packages. Just as things start to get hotter and heavier between Aria (Lucy Hale) and her high school English teacher-slash-undercover lover
EzraMr. Fitz (Ian Harding), she stumbles onto a secret from his past that could threaten to tear them apart! A couple of other potential love interests are also flung in her general direction, and even if she is able to patch things up with Ezra, they can't keep this whole underage romance thing under wraps forever. While Aria's parents are on the rocks, it looks like Spencer (Troian Bellisario) is about to see her family get a little larger. Yeah, yeah, her sister is preggers and all, but it turns out that the Hastings gene pool runs a lot deeper than that. Oh, and unlike Aria who gets new handsome boys from which to choose, Spencer is saddled with a love triangle with last season's leftovers: smush-faced-but-six-packed Toby (Keegan Allen) and oversmiling, jailbait-chasing British expat Wren (Julian Morris). Oh well. Spencer might also not have to look too far outside her own palatial home for clues as to who killed Alison either.
Paragraph break! Emily (Shay Mitchell) still has the most bustling love life of any of the girls, but that might be screeching to a halt if her mom yoinks her to Texas as planned. Maybe Emily will take a second look at the show's title, remember what a pretty little liar she is, and scheme and manipulate her way into staying rooted in the Keystone State. The stress of...well, everything is starting to get to her, though, so will she be the first to break away from the rest of the group and cut a deal with A? Last but totally not least is Hanna (Ashley Benson), who's struggling with stalkery crushes, a bi-coastal hacker boyfriend, a wedding that could keep her already-distant daddy that much further away, and a bitchy hurricane of a stepsister-to-be. Having Caleb (Tyler Blackburn) on speed dial to do all the hacker-y heavy lifting is both a blessing and a curse since that puts him squarely in A's crosshairs. What to do, Hanna? What to do?
Oooooh, there are so many highlights this time around. I mean, you learn that A isn't the only one spying on the townsfolk of Rosewood. There's a speed-metal-tainted fashion show (my favorite kind!), a hyper-creepy stalker shrine, some vomit-spattered wedding sabotage, a totally ill-timed stomach ulcer, canoe-oar-fu, hints that Aria's possibly-gay childhood bestie is embroiled in some underground fighting ring, the return of multiple former lesbian lovers, a Halloween flashback to a geeked-out, bespectacled Spencer that I kind of fell in love with, and Aria Montgomery flying a freakin' airplane. The pacing is a lot more manic -- I mean that in a good way -- this year than the more sluggish back half to Pretty Little Liars' first season. The stakes are really ratcheted up with a considerably heftier body count, and the girls become way more proactive in taking the fight to A. Longstanding plot threads are shoved forward, pulling out the rug that the series has been perched on for a while now, and if you've been desperately wondering who A is...well, I'm not gonna give anything away, but you do get an answer by the end.
I mean, yeah, Pretty Little Liars is completely ridiculous. The acting's all over the place, it's self-serious to the point of careening into borderline-camp, and you get all the secret siblings and torrid affairs and shocking betrayals and pretty girls and handsome boys and supercool clothes an' stuff you demand in a primetime soap. At the same time, Pretty Little Liars has a completely deliberate sense of humor too, the suspense/thriller stuff is frequently pulled off well enough to get my pulse racing, and I'm a hopeless sucker for all the breakneck twists and turns in the plot. Don't stop and think about why a sleepy little college town that has, like, three restaurants can support a repertory movie house or a 21-floor hospital, or why no one is ever, ever, ever in any of the classrooms the girls duck into for their secret, half-shouted-with-the-door-open confessionals. Or why some super-ambitious high schooler auditing college classes would choose a pottery course over...I don't know, anything? Or why the smart one in the group would pawn her sister's engagement ring to buy a used truck for her boyfriend instead of waiting till Monday for the bank to open? Or the logistics in making sure someone grabs a tainted box of Alpha-Bits that only has 'A's in it?
That's the thing, though. When Pretty Little Liars does something well, it's genuinely effective and impactful. When the show misfires or tears off in some bizarre, implausible direction, it's still an otherworldly amount of fun. I truly love Pretty Little Liars, and not in some hipstery, smarmy, ironic way. Pretty Little Liars' second season is every bit as superhumanly addictive as it was the first go around, and...well, I could keep typing, or I could just post a couple of animated GIFs to express my feelings:
You guessed it! Highly Recommended.
DVD only, he types with a wistful, forlorn frown. It's always kind of annoying when a show that airs in HD doesn't get a proper release on Blu-ray afterwards. I mean, I can watch Pretty Little Liars in high-def on my retina-friendly iPad, via Amazon Instant Video, cable and satellite, VOD, and kind of everything else, ever, but if I'm perched in front of my home theater and want to escape into Mr. Fitz' soulful blue eyes in 1080p, I'm S.O.L. For shame, Warner Home Video...for shame!
Okay, I'm obviously kidding -- a little, anyway -- but it is kind of a drag that we're five and a half years in and Blu-ray still isn't standard issue for season sets. If it eases the sting any, though, these DVDs do look pretty slick. To be honest, Pretty Little Liars' digital photography is reproduced a lot better here than I waltzed in to see: remarkably crisp, vibrantly colorful, and teeming with fine detail. Even without any advanced video codecs to prop it up, the compression is very adept as well. Yeah, yeah, it's missing that gleaming sparkle I'm used to getting out of Blu-ray, but I'm genuinely impressed by how well Pretty Little Liars has turned out on DVD.
The 25 episodes that make up Pretty Little Liars' second season are spread across six dual-layer discs, and they're all dished out in anamorphic widescreen.
Pretty Little Liars is lugging around a set of Dolby Digital 5.1 (384kbps) tracks, and I'm not left with a whole lot to gripe about. Dialogue and music are lavished with the bulk of the attention, both consistently belted out cleanly and clearly throughout. The score and licensed songs alike fill every channel, with far more distinctness in the instrumentation than I was expecting to hear and reinforced further by an impressively punchy low-end. Strip Pretty Little Liars down to bare metal, and you're looking at a thriller; the sound design very much has that mindset, particularly whenever the series shifts gears into suspense mode and the tension's ratcheted up. Lotsa hard, discrete placement of effects to unnerve viewers with meaty home theater setups. I will admit to being let down that some effects don't pack as much of a wallop as I'd have expected, especially considering that low-frequency snarl to so much of the music. Hitting some poor bastard with a car comes through surprisingly meekly, for one. Overall, though...? If it weren't trademarked and all, I'd give Pretty Little Liars' audio two thumbs up.
No dubs or commentaries or anything this season. Subtitles are served up in English (SDH), Spanish, French, some flavor of Chinese, and whatever that last glyph is that I can't decipher. Thai? I'll go with Thai.
Wait, I have one more quick rant to pull out here. My first jaunt through this season of Pretty Little Liars was on my iPad, and Apple cheerfully delivered me twelve behind-the-scenes featurettes, among them guided tours of the sets, chatter about the music and cinematography, and a peek at the writers' room. ...and that's all in high-def too. Just sayin'. Pretty much all of that was chucked out the driver's side window on DVD, and I have no idea why.
- Men of Mystery (10 min.): I was all of a couple episodes into season two when I stopped and realized: "wow, there sure are a lot more handsome, shirtless boys this time around". The first of this collection's two making-of pieces delves into what it's like for the men of Pretty Little Liars to be so handsome and so shirtless. Ian Harding, Drew Van Acker, Tyler Blackburn, and Keegan Allen are all interviewed, and yes, ladies, you get to find out how much the actors have in common with the characters you're swooning over every Tuesday at 8 (7 central).
- Fashion's Guilty Pleasure (12 min.): Featurette numero two-oh storms into the closets of all four Liars, exploring their distinctive tastes in fashion as well as how the changes to their characters are reflected in the clothing they wear. Oh, and they also say that as fashionable as the girls are, the outfits you see 'em wearing on TV are actually realistically affordable for the millions of folks who tune in every week. I know that's true because my friend Maggie has
threefour tops she's seen on Pretty Little Liars. The more you know...
- Deleted Scenes (16 min.): Maybe DVD got shafted when it comes to the extras, but it does have deleted scenes for "It's Alive", "Never Letting Go", "Touched by an 'A'-ngel", "I Must Confess", "Over My Dead Body", "A Hot Piece of 'A'", "A Kiss Before Dying", "Breaking the Code", and "If These Dolls Could Talk", and that's definitely one-up over what iTunes has to offer. Gaze upon Toby the Carpenter teasing Spencer with the promise of a secret wooden present, Mona hacking off a chunk of some hapless girl's hair on the runway, a whoooole lot more with that missing ring, Emily and her mom sharing some cupcake-time, a heart-to-heart between Jenna and Toby, and Hanna confusing a parsnip for a carrot. Seriously, Hanna, what the hell?
Pretty Little Liars' second season comes packaged in an extra-wide six-disc case that slides into a cardboard sleeve. Tucked inside is an episode guide with a fashionably retro shot of the Liars dolled up like love interests on Mad Men or somethin'. There's also an UltraViolet code if you
wantneed to download or stream this season to your iPhone or whatever, although alas...! Still standard-def only.
The Final Word
I don't care that I'm probably older than you and that I totally have boy parts; I unabashedly love this soapy teen thriller way too much to shrug it off as a guilty pleasure. Continuing its reign as one of the most wildly addictive series on television these days, Pretty Little Liars' sophomore season definitely comes Highly Recommended.