Review by Sean Boelman
The original Pretty Little Liars was a teen hit when it aired on ABC Family/Freeform for its run from 2010-2017, and now that its core audience is grown up, apparently it is time that the property is brought back from the dead. Enter the edgier reboot Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin on HBO Max, which sometimes tries a bit too hard but is often downright entertaining in a trashy way.
Supposedly set within the same universe as the original series but not directly connected to it, Original Sin follows a group of high schoolers who are tormented by a masked killer whose motive might be tied to events that happened in their town twenty years ago. It’s a twisty, convoluted mystery, but what else would someone expect from this show?
The series definitely goes all in on the retro horror vibe, and that is a lot of what makes it so much fun. Although it is set in the modern day, it very much feels like an old-school slasher, and that is a perfect vibe for what this is going for. It’s definitely campy, but it also takes itself seriously enough that we won’t be ridiculing it.
Of course, the series does suffer a lot from having the execution of a teen soap. Even the sequences that are designed to pay homage to horror movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s feel like they are done so through an aggressively digital lens. The HBO Max streaming platform means it likely has a lot more money to work with than its predecessor did on network television, but it’s still limited by the genre.
The one thing that is quite annoying about the show is the constant attempts at incorporating meta commentary. It’s clear that this wants to be Scream, so it is constantly referencing horror movies in a way it thinks is smart. But when the most “obscure” films that are being mentioned are Dressed to Kill and Deep Red, maybe it isn’t as insightful as it thinks.
Still, the series does an excellent job of getting the audience absorbed into the dynamic of the central characters. All of the leads are likable and charming, and while the setting that they find themselves in isn’t exactly believable, the friendship between them is and is the driving force of the show.
Bailee Madison is the biggest name in the cast, and she is the highlight. She gives the performance that is the most grounded and brings most of the emotion into the series. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Mallory Bechtel, who is extremely over-the-top in a wonderfully soapy way.
Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin is, somewhat surprisingly, a genuinely fun show. While it has its fair share of issues and certainly isn’t as intelligent as it seems to think it is, it delivers on the thrills and melodrama that is expected of it.
Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin debuts on HBO Max on July 28 with new episodes streaming subsequent Thursdays. Five out of ten episodes reviewed.