TV Article

'Pretty Little Liars': Our Summer Guilty Pleasure

With its stylish stars and jaw-dropping cliff-hangers, this show is on everybody's lips

On ABC Family's teen soap Pretty Little Liars, a glove can be a cute fashion accessory — or an ominous clue in a murder mystery. And the lone black leather glove in question on a recent visit to the series' Burbank set is the kind a murderer — not a mall queen — might wear.

Specifically, it masks the identity of the elusive ''A,'' an anonymous heckler who terrorizes Liars' four high school friends by threatening to spill their deepest secrets. Today the dirty deed involves depositing an unwanted present — a red flip phone — into the purse of one of our Little Liars, a move that will no doubt cause shock waves when it's discovered. But just like that, the episode ends, and we're left with a flurry of maddening queries: Whose phone is it? What havoc will it wreak? And of course: Who the hell is ''A''?

While most shows are lucky to pull off one juicy cliff-hanger a season, Pretty Little Liars delivers them in every episode, wrapped up in a bow of relatable friendships and quirky fashion. It's that cocktail of Gossip Girl's sartorial acumen, Veronica Mars' brainteasing, and I Know What You Did Last Summer's thrills that has cemented the show as the hottest guilty pleasure in the teen universe.

Returning on June 14, Liars focuses on a tight-knit high school quartet — outspoken Spencer (Troian Bellisario), feisty Hanna (Ashley Benson), demure Emily (Shay Mitchell), and levelheaded Aria (Lucy Hale) — who became estranged after the disappearance of their clique's queen, Alison, during a sleepover. When Alison's body was discovered a year later, the remaining four regrouped, only to be tormented by the elusive ''A'' via sinister texts and emails that have spilled secrets large (Aria's dad's affair) and small (Emily's romantic dalliances as a lesbian). And he or she is not done yet.

Even the foursome — all of whom are, by the way, very pretty and little — dies with anticipation over the show's mysteries. ''I always try and steal the scripts,'' says Benson. ''I'm the one who's always like, 'I need to know right now what's happening for this whole season!''' In cooking up the show's formula, exec producer I. Marlene King says, ''When we were talking about tone, we came up with one word: delicious.'' Adds exec producer Oliver Goldstick: ''It's mischievous. We don't use this word much in America — it's a British term — but the girls are naughty.''

America seems to like girls gone bad: Liars' season 1 finished with an average of 3.8 million viewers, up 15 percent from the first half, which aired last summer. (Interestingly, 55 percent of the viewers are over the age of 18.) The online buzz is even more impressive. Liars boasts 4.7 million fans on Facebook (a million more than ABC Family's crown jewel, The Secret Life of the American Teenager), and after new episodes air, the show is regularly a trending topic on Twitter, besting True Blood, Glee, and The Walking Dead in the service's TV category for all of 2010. Those benchmarks transcend traditional measures of television success, says Kate Juergens, executive VP of programming and development at ABC Family: ''We don't have to wait for a rating, honestly.''

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