Pretty Little Liars is ABC Family's biggest and most successful series. The show made its mark by drawing viewers into an increasingly complicated web of deceit, misdirection, and pretty faces, and naturally, the network wants to milk PLL's popularity for everything it's worth. The way to do that in the world of television is to develop a spin-off that follows a beloved character to a new location. In this case, that spin-off is Ravenswood, and that character is Caleb Rivers, the boyfriend of PLL's Hanna Marin. The series debuts this week alongside PLL's annual Halloween special, but is it worth your time? Say it with me know: Read on to find out!
I don't watch Pretty Little Liars; what's Ravenswood about?
Ravenswood is ABC Family's answer to the popular supernatural genre that's all over The CW, another network aimed at a younger demographic. The writers aren't able to dally in that genre on PLL because A) the show is based on a series of books, and B) it simply doesn't exist in that kind of world. Karma is probably as close to the supernatural as the Liars ever get; even Alison DiLaurentis's return from beyond the grave was explained away via saying she never having died in the first place. Ravenswood, however, is definitely a spooky, supernatural series that revolves around a curse that plagues the titular town. The curse extends back through several generations and involves five teenagers—outsiders Caleb and Miranda, plus three teens who grew up in town. Ravenswood will focus on their attempts to unravel the mystery of the curse before they suffer the fate of their ancestors.
So who lives in Ravenswood?
The series, created by PLL executive producers I. Marlene King, Joseph Dougherty and Oliver Goldstick, centers on Tyler Blackburn's Caleb and Nicole Gale Anderson's Miranda Collins, a (non-PLL) teen who was orphaned at a young age. Miranda is headed to Ravenswood to reunite with her uncle, Raymond Collins, who runs a funeral home in the town. As for Caleb, I'm not exactly clear on the impetus for his move from Rosewood to Ravenswood; we saw him en route to his new home at the end of PLL's summer finale, but I'm expecting the PLL Halloween special to fill in a few more blanks.
Anyway, moving on! Played to creepy perfection by Steven Cabral, Miranda's uncle Raymond is dressed up as a cliched, supernatural villain, with dark features, pale skin, and a very pronounced widow's peak. Seriously, he's like a grown-up version of Eddie Munster. Joining the supernatural teen drama squad are Merritt Patterson as Olivia, Brett Dier as her brother Luke, and Britne Oldford as Remy. Finally, Meg Foster reprises her role as Mrs. Grunwald from PLL.
When does the series premiere?
Ravenswood arrives Tuesday October 22 at 9pm, immediately following the annual Pretty Little Liars Halloween special on ABC Family. It'll then move to 8pm beginning October 29.
I like Show X, is Ravenswood anything like that?
If Show X is Pretty Little Liars, then yes, because Ravenswood has the same sort of style and flavor as its parent series. But when it comes to other supernatural shows, I'd compare it to very early episodes of The Vampire Diaries. Ravenswood is nowhere near the quality that TVD eventually achieved in Seasons 2 and 3, but in the beginning, TVD was very much about some good-looking teens, some dead dudes, and a bird. So it's pretty on-par.
What's stands out about Ravenswood?
Caleb is a well-liked character in the PLL universe and his mostly-a-question-mark backstory as a child who grew up in foster homes lends itself well to Ravenswood's mysterious nature. It's easy to believe his family has ties to this town, because we don't know much about his family. But since PLL fans already care about him, he was the perfect character to lead the spin-off. Also, the pilot features a scene where he's in a bathtub, in case you like your mysteries to come with abs.
The supernatural aspect of the series also works well for ABC's younger target demographic, which means viewers shouldn't expect anything too dark or scary. But with that said, Miranda's uncle Raymond is just the right amount of quiet and creepy to freak a viewer out in a good way. And the final scene of the pilot will make you want to see the next episode ASAP, much like the best installments of PLL.
What's holding Ravenswood back?
If you're familiar with any of ABC Family's previous work, there's nothing new or surprising here. It's another series about a sort of compelling mystery involving a bunch of good-looking teenagers who probably should just leave town and never look back. But they don't, because they're teens and because that'd be too easy.
Most of the pilot's is spent introducing the four new main characters and their families—which is completely fair, that's what pilots do—but because of that, it isn't until the last 10 minutes of the episode that you really learn anything remotely concrete about the curse and the mystery that haunts the town. By that point, there's not much time for the characters to react to the news. So the premiere is mostly Caleb and Miranda traipsing around town, talking too loudly about weird things that have happened to them—like seeing their faces on headstones and thinking that it's only mildly odd. For a series that's built on a mysterious and spooky foundation, one would think the mystery and the spookiness would play more of a part in the pilot.
The series is also banking on all of its viewers being fans of Pretty Little Liars, because Caleb is hardly introduced, save for a voiceover at the start of the pilot that describes him in about three generic sentences. That doesn't exactly make it easy for new viewers to tune in and understand or care about the main character. And unfortunately, most of the new characters are bland and boring during our first encounter with them, Remy being the sole exception. She's the lone newbie with a personality, and she's the only one whose backstory gets any time in the pilot since her family plays a role in the overall mystery story arc.
Finally, there's a mysterious side story involving Olivia and Luke's family that is shoddily introduced, but that will clearly play a large part in the series going forward. It probably would've been just fine to save it for Episode 2, because as it stands, it not only doesn't make much sense, it isn't compelling enough to make viewers care about it from the start.
Give it to me straight: Should I watch it?
You're probably expecting me to tell you no after all that, but I'm not going to. While I wouldn't expect great things from Ravenswood right off the bat, it's got the potential to be a fun, entertaining ride. The series fits in well with the rest of ABC Family's teen-friendly lineup, and it's definitely on the guilty pleasure spectrum for those of you who aren't in your tweens and teens. Plus there's lots ridiculous, unintentional humor to be had, like when a character says, "Come on, let's take pictures of our tombstones" and isn't trying to be funny.
I'm still not swayed either way. Can I see a trailer?
Yep, here ya go!
AIRED ON 2/4/2014
Season 1 : Episode 10