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Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists - Pilot - Review: "Did you learn nothing in Rosewood?" + POLL



Introduction
Even if you didn't stick around for the 2nd, 3rd or 100th "A" reveal of the original Freeform masterpiece, Pretty Little Liars, it's fair to assume most viewers are familiar with its world and characters but if you're new to this crazy new world, you should know that at its best PLL was daring, bonkers, and empowering. It celebrated the unbreakable bond of these girls’ friendship group and was diverse, with positive leading women of colour, and mainstream LGBT representation. At its worst, it got lost in ridiculous plot twists, dragged out storylines, and a bad habit for killing off numerous minority secondary characters to tie its loose ends.

Naturally, the spin-off announcement raised many questions: How would Alison AND Mona be incorporated in this? How come Emily Fields and twins wouldn’t be in this show? Will Mona’s queerness continue to be erased and exist purely in subtext? Why did they decide Pretty little Liars: The Perfectionists was an appropriate title? Why not just call it Pretty little Perfectionists and save us all a really long hashtag. Finally, how does the spin-off, based on Sara Shepard's new novels, compare to the original, also based on Sara Shepard's novels?

Pilot Recap
The pilot opens with a panning shot into the dark university campus streets as Sofia Carson’s (Disney’s Descendants) introduces us to the HIGHLY competitive, maybe Ivy League level, BHU and its suspiciously sharp fence spikes (hope no one falls on those). Thunder is striking, leaves are blowing and an acoustic violin version of Gaga's Bad Romance is playing. Welcome back to the PLL cinematic universe bitches!

New liars:

We follow our three student protagonists: Dylan (Eli Brown), the cute cello player, Caitlin (Sydney Park) the sporty law student, and Ava the artsy Aria type, a fashion student who spends her night sketching ideas in a full face of makeup and a perfect outfit. Maybe she’s the Hanna or maybe they’re all Spencer Hastings because these students are all perfection obsessed high strung achievers one blackmail away from popping some adderall and burying someone in their backyard.

Since this is PLL, after all, each of these super attractive young students, of course, has a super attractive boyfriend: Dylan has Andrew (the Caleb), Caitlin has her ripped British man (basically Wren), and Ava has it-boy Nolan (Chris Mason) although she’s not allowed to be publicly seen with him. I know what every one of you die-hard fans are all thinking: enough about all these new gen liars where are our original leading ladies?

Original liars:

Alison Dilaurentis is back as a protagonist to make up for the seasons where she was reduced to a boring soccer mom. She looks AMAZING and is working with her trademark blonde curls. She’s also traded her two kids and wife for a new position at literally the other side of the country. Apparently, Emily and Alison didn’t work out? Who could have ever predicted this? Emily's too busy living her New York socialite fantasy on Netflix's "You" anyway.

As Ali settles into her new house and PLL spinoff (Is anyone else gonna miss those old Rosewood sets dearly?) she hears a strange noise and her smiles fades as the classic ominous music plays and she scurries around to see where it came from. She first checks the creepy basement - this is Alison after all - before opening the kitchen door to find my raison d'être, MONA VANDERJESUS waiting for her.

She's holding a murder weapon in one hand, a pie on the other and wears the most adorable hey old friend-who-made-my-teenage-life-a-living-hell smile I’ve ever seen. I guess employment requirements for BHU include must have faked death at least once during high school.

So it seems like the happy ever afters we got in the PLL finale only lasted about two years because Mona also ditched France (AND ALEX DRAKE) for a game design (she did always love a good game) gig before getting employed in BHU. She tells Alison she helped her get the position for old time’s sake which of course means she’s plotting something genius and evil. When Alison gets up to put the rest of the pie away, Mona looks at herself in the opposite mirror and makes a remark about how Alison seems “more determined than ever”. Make way for Mona 5.0 who is now casually breaking the fourth wall.

Mona gives Alison a tour of the campus and its history. The ridiculously named Hotchkiss family not only funded this university but has also placed Alison in their dead daughter’s old house. Can Alison catch a break? Their other son is also in her class and so are our three other protagonists who, conveniently, are the only ones that Ali picks on in class. Mona warns Ali about Nolan specifically because according to her hyper adrenalised mind calculations he’s a dick.

The new master manipulator:

The cute and extremely white and privileged Nolan and his gorgeous posse have made a deal: they pretend to be his friends and in return he doesn’t reveal their deep dark secrets. Nolan is the Alison of the group. We know he’s the Alison because he butts heads with her and throughout the episode he appears in flashbacks tormenting and blackmailing all his friends, including using his fluid sexuality to manipulate them, another classic Alison move.

If he truly is the Alison of this show, however, it means he has to go by the end of the pilot to make way for the murder mystery, they didn’t stick the PLL label in front of this show’s name for nothing. As Alison recognises her old evil mastermind self in Nolan, she offers his victims help by getting to know them more and soon realises his fake pose would very much like to get rid of him.

Parent Drama:

It turns out Caitlin’s mom is running for office and she can’t afford her cheating scandal to ruin her chances at being elected, which of course Nolan has proof of and is holding it over Caitlin’s head. Her mom should just hire Mona as her campaign assistant and she’ll bury Nolan and her secet with him.

While Dylan is losing sleep doing everyone else’s work, Ava is is lounging at the pool in Nolan’s estate while he can’t seem to gather the courage and stand up to his mother (Gossip Girl's Kelly Rutherford) who's determined to ensure nothing gets in the way of her son’s success even if it means ordering 24/7 surveillance on him and of course, he’s not the only one dealing with parent drama.


Full time Youtuber persona, Ava, is reeling from her dad fleeing after embezzling his company and her mom bailing. They left her with NOTHING apart from another mansion and a bag full of cash, she is a true self-made icon. Alison inquires about all this in their meeting because it’s totally normal for a TA to bring up your parent’s criminal record. Ava kindly asks Alison to mind her own business but miss Dilaurentis is back to her old ways. Let’s celebrate that.

There’s a party going on, apparently supposed to be a welcoming soiree at Hotchkiss manor where her son and his fake friends are photographed. Mona is running it because as always Mona is in charge of everything as well as spying on Nolan while wearing a killer red dress and sipping on some wine channelling her Cersei Lannister fantasy, while Dylan plays more 2010 covers on his cello.

Nolan drives his car to a remote cabin in the woods to meet Taylor! Surprise, the dead blonde girl isn’t dead after all. It’s just like old times. He’s pretty upset he had to pretend to cheat on Ava to drive her away and Taylor updates him on the progress she’s been making on hacking into the BHU security feed to stop the surveillance and prove they’re spying on people. Her hideout looks a lot like those old A lairs Mona used to sit in, there’s monitors and dolls and pictures of everyone.

And then there were none with solid alibis

Just like in PLL, everyone prefers to meet in the middle of a dark forest because it’s "safer". Ava, Caitlin, and Dylan meet to talk without Nolan (or the surveillance) listening in. They’ve all had enough of Nolan’s manipulating and have decided to take Alison up on her offer to help them report Nolan. Although it's not entirely clear what Nolan has done to Ava in the past, other than cheat on her with her photography model the girl is ready to take him down and is suddenly feeling sorry that Dylan has been blackmailed into doing all her work for her.

Fed up with having to deal with pretty rich boy's drama, they stand in the middle of the woods at night and exchange fantasies of getting rid of him. They all walk together back to campus and part ways with the taste of Nolan dying still lingering in their mouths as they exchange suspicious looks. And sure enough, Nolan watches all this from atop Thorn Hall as a shadowy HOODED figure approaches him. Whoever it is they’re clearly close enough to Nolan to lure him and… toss him off the roof and onto the spikes, just as Caitlin imagined.

After cornering Mona and demanding to know exactly why she was hired and Mona assured her it was only to help students deal with the pressure of their studies (because why would they hire a professional, a mental health advisor or guidance counsellor instead of Alison Dilaurentis?), Alison picks at the tear in her wallpaper that's been bugging her all episode to peel away to reveal the very literal writing on the wall: "They’re watching."

One by one the suspects gather around his impaled body while Mona runs to a bathroom and asks herself is this was “their” fault. In the best and most surprising twist of the pilot, the reflection in the mirror is broadcasted in the security surveillance headquarters and Mona is, in fact, speaking into a headpiece and receives instructions to go to her safe place. Did Mona join the CIA and is working as an undercover agent?She’s still here bitches and she knows everything.

Sweepstakes
Presenting this week's categories (tbd episode by episode and we are also welcoming submissions!)

Killer looks: Alison's about to start solving crimes in her white trench coat and I am living.

Queer eye: It was refreshing to see a hypermasculine character like Nolan be so casual about their sexual fluidity (but take this with a grain of salt, he's still a pretty problematic rich guy) but more so I love you Freeform, for your vision of an America where lesbian moms can run for president.

Iconic line: "Maybe I was inspired by my own fantasy of getting rid of someone… haha just kidding" - Caitlin
Girl... weren't you just studying law naked in bed, what has Viola Davis taught us? Rule 101 of getting away with murder is not to joke about murdering people.

Wishlist for next episode: Change that awful opening sequencing and use that beautiful promo of the liars walking under the rain and doing the trademark sush 🤫instead.

Who is this monster?: Looks like once again we're in between a killer, a hooded figure, and a whole team of surveillance huh? We know Mona had some indirect involvement in his death and Caitlin did suspiciously predict his murder dead on but it could be anyone, even his sister who faked her death to live in a cabin while he has pool parties, or maybe there's a secret twin we don't know about. The real killer is the picture frame reminding us of Alison's bangs from the PLL finale flashforward, burn THAT.

Verdict
Rating: 4/5 Scenes between Alison and Mona burning with such explosive big lesbian energy that they could power up the entire Hotchkiss Student Spying Agency.

This is the second attempt to expand the PLL cinematic universe and it shows a lot of promise. For one thing, it’s not set in a black and white backlot set where teens are hunted by ghosts. For another, the cast seems much better suited for its slightly older character and more mature setting, which admittedly feels very much like that of Abc's HTGAWM.

The Perfectionists, may have not immediately sold me with its new liars and they do have a pretty impossible act to follow after Bellisario, Hale, Mitchell, and Benson but it did make me feel something no other show can: it's started filling that PLL shaped hole in my heart. In fact, bring back Charlotte and Alex Drake and consider me sold. Besides, I would take a spin-off starring Janel and Sasha any day than leave the title of teen murder show in the hands of Riverdale.

There you have it, bitches. What did all you PLL fans old and new think of the next instalment in the Marlene King cinematic universe? Do we think Sofia Carson is voicing over every episode or will each character take turns? Let us know in the poll and comments below:

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