Pretty Little Liars Moves Forward, The Lying Game Steps Back

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ABC Family’s fib-heavy lineup returned last night with two much-hyped winter premieres. But while Pretty Little Liars took some important steps forward, The Lying Game just got a lot more muddled. And both series continued to frustrate with some unbelievable stalling—at some point you want to throttle these characters: “Get on with it already!”

To its credit, Pretty Little Liars did make some notable strides. We began the episode with the girls doing community service for tampering with evidence—seems like they should be in a lot more trouble, but hey, wearing those orange jumpsuits even once is probably punishment enough. I loved the discord between the liars, both because it brought back the estrangement that was on display in the pilot, and because it’s just not believable that these girls are going to stay BFF.

So, okay, I was a little disappointed that the in-fighting was just a ploy to trick “A.” Here’s hoping Spencer and Emily butt heads for real in upcoming episodes, because watching them fight was way too fun to be a one-time deal. However, it’s always nice to see the girls taking a more proactive role: I was worried that their legal issues at the end of the midseason finale would force them to step back. The last thing Pretty Little Liars needs is more of its characters being passive. And come on, it’s not like “A” is ever going to stop—why wouldn’t the girls fight back?

But that’s also what was so frustrating about the episode’s conclusion, which had the liars trapping “A” and… letting him or her get away. Look, I know this person is dangerous and very capable of murder, but there was no reason the girls couldn’t have snuck a peek. I was really hoping Emily’s mystery box was full of flashlights or cameras, anything to expose the true identity of “A.” Realistically, it’s too soon for us to know who’s behind it all, but I’m having a hard time suspending my disbelief. There were four of them and one of “A”: please.

In non-“A” news, Aria and Ezra finally came clean to her parents about their illicit relationship. Even though the main mystery continues to drag its heels, Pretty Little Liars isn’t afraid to take some big chances, and it was exciting to see one secret revealed. The reactions felt natural, too: Byron’s rage, Mike’s physicality, Ella’s suggestion that Aria may have picked up the student-teacher thing from her dad’s indiscretions. For a show that can be all kinds of silly and soapy, I felt like they really nailed the emotional moments here.

As far as the other relationships go, Spencer was on the outs with Toby, and Hanna was very much on with Caleb. (Poor Lucas got to look on and pout.) Maybe my priorities are mixed-up, but I’m still more interested in the mystery. Well, okay, I’m about as interested in finding out who “A” is as I am in Aria and Ezra’s relationship. What can I say? Ezra’s kind of my thing. Also, I’m psyched to see Hanna’s sadistic stepsister Kate return. We need more villains on this show who aren’t Jenna. Or, you know, shadowy figures in hoodies.

Monday's night o' premieres continued with the return of Pretty Little Liars’ sister show, The Lying Game. The first season has been hit or miss for me, but the midseason finale ended on a high note: Sutton, who'd gone full-on sociopath, was left for dead in a sinking car. And it looked like we were poised for a visit from Annie, Sutton and Emma’s biological mom.

Except, wait a minute, it turns out this Annie isn’t the mental patient we’ve come to know and love. This Annie is Annie Sewell, Char’s aunt, who is conveniently going by “Rebecca” now because having two characters named “Annie” is more confusing than it needs to be. I’m inclined to agree, but I’m annoyed by the fake-out cliffhanger. The Lying Game obviously bears a resemblance to The CW’s Ringer, another twin-swapping thriller, but I’ve actually found the ABC Family version to be a smarter, more engaging story overall.

And now it looks as though The Lying Game has borrowed a page from Ringer, promising a big reveal that turned out to be—well, nothing. Okay, there’s an implication that Rebecca has major dirt on Ted and Alec, but that’s all it is: more vague hints at a dark past and secrets that would be better left buried. Despite my joy at seeing Charisma Carpenter (of Buffy and Angel nerd fame) added to the cast, I’m annoyed at the bait-and-switch. I think Carpenter is a perfect fit for this show (plus she's no stranger to twin-swapping plots!), and I’m all for more familial conflict, but now I can’t stop thinking of her as not-Annie.

In general, The Lying Game frustrates me, because I want to like it more than I actually do. Like Pretty Little Liars, there is a central mystery that can’t be solved too soon. Both shows stretch out their material as far as they can, and that’s something we’ve come to expect as an audience. But Pretty Little Liars gives us more to work with along the way. The Lying Game's winter premiere was a reminder that the show lacks focus. There were moments that genuinely grabbed me, but they were quickly abandoned.

Case in point: the rift between Emma and Ethan. I loved the idea of Thayer and Dan playing these two against each other. There is way too much bonding on this show, and not enough suspicion. Plus, things are always more interesting when you force the allies to question one another. But that lasted, what, all of one act? And then they were back to being too in love to be anything but honest. Boring!

The episode ended with another cliffhanger, this one far less interesting than the last. It looks like The Lying Game has an “A” of its own, as Emma, Ethan, and Thayer received an anonymous threat: “Keep on being Sutton… or you’re next.” At this point, all I can do is shrug. I’d like to think this series is going somewhere good, but I don’t have a lot of faith at this point. And The Lying Game seems overstuffed with nefarious figures as it is—do we really need a faceless villain, when Alec and Sutton are so overtly manipulative? I hope Sutton returns soon: There’s no way she’ll put up with this crap.

What did you think of Pretty Little Liars' and The Lying Game's midseason premieres?

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