While daytime soap operas struggle to stay afloat on network television, there are several shows flourishing on teen-targeted cable channels that owe almost everything about their style and structure to their soapy predecessors. One such TV series is “Pretty Little Liars,” currently in its second season on ABC Family, and I must confess it is my new small-screen addiction. I am just now making my way through the early episodes, so I have a lot of scandals and romantic trigonometry to catch up on, but I can already tell that there are quite the arrays of backstabbing and tawdry tales in store for me. “How can you be so sure?” you may wonder. Well, it’s simple…From the very first scene of the series’ pilot, the show has done a great job of defining itself and letting audiences know what to expect from each episode. It is shot on a lowish budget and with limited camera angles (much like a soap opera), so you learn from the get go not to expect breathtaking shots or spot-on-dialogue delivery, but in place of these window dressings you come to expect high drama, suspenseful story beats and a whole lot of cliffhangers. Not a bad trade off if you ask me.
As I get more and more hooked with each episode, I’m reminded of the summers in my teens when I somehow managed to structure my days around a burgeoning soap-opera habit. My teenage self had fallen hard for the constant mysteries, brainwashings, and evil twin sisters that soap operas so reliably delivered, and I can now see just how much these stories effected me as a writer. As an English literature major in college I would justify my love of soap operas by saying, “They’re just so Dickensian,” and as an aspiring TV writer now I might just as easily say, “Soaps are serialized storytelling at its purest.” Both of these statements are very true, due to the fact that what soap operas have always done best is keep viewers wanting more by entering every commercial break and ending each episode on a cliffhanger. These cliffhangers are what made Victorian magazine readers buy issue upon issue of Charles Dickens’ stories and they’re a large part of what’s made viewers tune in religiously to some of the most popular TV shows of the last decade. This stringing along and building up of suspense is a big part of what makes even the most basic campfire stories entertaining, and, even though I’m without a campfire at the moment, I’m happy to have “Pretty Little Liars” to satiate my hunger for good, old-fashioned storytelling this summer. I highly recommend checking out this series if you’re in the mood for strong story beats and a steady dose of teen drama.
Psst: If you’re looking for a different kind of TV addiction, check out my top pics for a TV marathon. Are there any other shows or books you’re obsessively indulging in right now. Do share!