PrettyLittleLiars4coverGrade: B-
Entire family: No (way)
2013-14, 1046 min. (24 episodes), Color
Not Rated (would be TV-14 at least)
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Bonus features: B-
Season 4 preview

“All of my friends watch it.”

Every parent gets that at some point, and Pretty Little Liars is exactly the type of show that will draw such comments, because its central characters are teens—though they look, dress, and act more like twenty somethings. And they’re all beautiful people . . . even the corpses.

I haven’t watched the entire series, only Season 4, but Warner Bros. makes it possible for people to jump right in and get up to speed by screening a full recap episode that takes you through the first three seasons. It automatically kicks in if you select “Play All.” And from what I’ve seen in recap and this season, the writers treat the girls as if they are twenty somethings.

We don’t see any parents or family life to speak of, except for brief turns involving Alison’s mom, another “skanky” mom who sleeps with a cop to get her delinquent daughter off the hook, and few more siblings. The emphasis is all on these four girls and their little individual dramas that interweave with one very large one. Meanwhile, for high school students, this group of teens sure has a light schedule. The only scenes involving school or classes come from one girl’s illicit relationship with her English teacher. Yeah, not a lot of role modeling going on in this show.

Still, Pretty Little Liars, now in its fifth season, is a popular series that inspired the spinoff Ravenswood. As with The Hunger Games, this ABC Family show is loosely based on a series of young-adult novels (in this case, by author Sara Shepard), and there’s plenty of killing—though not as graphic as in The Hunger Games films. Part murder mystery and part soap opera, it’s what you’d get if you created a teen version of Desperate Housewives and concentrated less on relationships and sex than on the mystery of the group’s “frenemy”—in this case, Alison, the clique’s leader, who disappeared in Season 1.

Alison (Sasha Pieterse) knew all of their secrets and had been using that information to get artsy Aria (Lucy Hale), brainy Spencer (Troian Bellisario), athletic Emily (Shay Mitchell), and loser-turned-popular girl Hanna (Ashley Benson) to do whatever she wanted. And after she’s gone, the girls start receiving text messages from someone who seems to know all of those same secrets and signs each note “A.” Is it Alison? Someone Alison knew? Someone who killed Alison?  

PrettyLittleLiars4screenTo me, Pretty Little Liars is a contrived show that’s full of posturing, but I could see where teen girls might like it, and maybe even mothers and daughters bonding together. I just can’t see it working for other family members, and younger, sensitive teen girls might have a hard time with all the death. My daughter was interested at first, but shut the series off for good when the girls snuck into a mortuary to rifle through the dead body of a policeman who might have something on him that would implicate someone in a crime.

In Season 4, Hanna learns something about her mom, the girls zero in on Mona as a possible “A,” mom-likes-you-best Melissa returns to Rosewood, Pa., where this series is set, and a new detective comes to town and seems more persistent than the other local police. The girls keep getting messages from “A,” they ratchet up their efforts to find out the identity of “A,” they road trip to nearby Ravenswood, they read Alison’s diary, and that English teacher turns out to be more trouble than any of them could have imagined.

Parents who have to respond to that “All my friends watch it” argument need to know that there is violence, but for a show of this type the sex is dialed down more than you’d expect. There are plenty of relationships and kissing (including lesbians) plus a few more sexual scenes, but no revealing nudity. However, if you have an aversion to the word “bitches” you’d better say “no” to this one, because that word is said very frequently. Mostly, though, this season of Pretty Little Liars, like the first three, is based on stalking and is tinged with death. If that’s your thing, go for it. But it wasn’t our family’s.