Pretty Little Liars: Summer School premiere ties up loose ends, emotional; but time jump doesn't work (Review)

The first episode of season 2 is officially here! How well does it wrap up plot threads from season 1, and set up the next season's major arcs?
Pretty Little Liars: Summer School. Cr: WBTV
Pretty Little Liars: Summer School. Cr: WBTV /

Pretty Little Liars is back with an all-new season set to add folk horror, urban legends, and even some cult activity to the slasher story set up in season 1. The new season, titled Pretty Little Liars: Summer School, debuted May 9, 2024 on Max. The question on everyone's minds is: will it be as successful as season 1?

When Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin first came out, the streamer dropped three episodes at once to get audiences hooked. This time only two were released, but it was definitely a necessary move. While there's a lot of great stuff in episode 1, it has more exposition than stakes, making it hard for fans to fully submerge themselves in Millwood drama in just one hour.

With that being said, the premiere episode is definitely a mixed bag. One thing to keep in mind is that, despite being a part of the Pretty Little Liars franchise, this is a show being run by Riverdale's creator, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. That is incredibly clear in this episode, so here's the breakdown of the good, the bad, and the Riverdale of season 2's premiere, "" For a full recap of the episode, click here.

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School. Cr: WBTV /

The best secrets from episode 1

The absolute best parts of this episode come from its emotional core, the same part that resonated so much with fans in the first season. The first episode caught audiences up on what the Liars have been doing since the conflict at Millwood High, and it did a surprisingly good job showing how each of the girls is trying to cope with the trauma.

Thanks to Archie's escape at the end of last season, none of the girls fully believes that they can move forward. They've been trained that there is always another monster around the corner, a way for the killer to escape and come back for them. With that in mind, it's completely understandable that they're still acting like A is in pursuit.

There wasn't much discussion of how this impacted Faran and Noa in this episode, beyond their shared tendency to lie to their partners. Neither quite knows who they are anymore, a fact they don't feel comfortable sharing with their boyfriends. But they are certainly the least paranoid so far.

Imogen and Mouse on the other hand are constantly looking for signs that A is coming back to finish them off. Given that Imogen had to fight for her own and her baby's lives in season 1, it makes complete sense that she would feel the need to keep protecting her child. Even with no obvious threat in sight.

Cr: WBTV /

Mouse didn't have as traumatic of a fight last season, but she did have to listen to Steve die over the phone at the start of this episode, a moment that clearly haunted her. She's even more invested in following the clues around the Waters family than Imogen was last season, which is really saying something.

Tabby seems to have managed the aftermath of A's attacks best, but she is completely unable to move forward from what Chip did to her. This is perhaps the best element of the first episode because it fits how she handled her assault last season, while also providing a lot of depth to her pain.

The first season made it clear that, while understandable, Principal Clanton was wrong to seek revenge so maliciously against the girls and their mothers. However, Tabby seems like she might be going down a similar path. Finding out that she was assaulted by her best friend, Chip, broke Tabby's ability to trust in ways that the series has only just started exploring.

From depicting the active rejection by those in town to acknowledging Tabby's profound anger, the episode does a great job showing just how much an assault like that can haunt a person long after the physical repercussions have passed. Her speech during therapy is one of the most powerful moments the series has had thus far, and the raw pain it presents is a good sign for the season's ability to honor the girls' pain going forward.

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School. Cr: WBTV /

Take it to the grave

While this episode got its portrayals of trauma right, the actual structure of the episode was a disservice to its stronger moments. After tying up the loose ends from season one, the six-month time jump seems to have done more to set up the summer setting than it was to create the best possible story.

Time jumps can work, but it felt like a weak move here. In many ways, the Liars act like no time has passed since their confrontations with Principal Clanton and Archie Waters. While it would be unreasonable to expect them to have fully moved on from what happened, there is little that has changed in their worlds at all in six months besides the development of new fighting skills.

In the few areas where things did change, it was often told through exposition dumps, rather than shown. For example, the change from Imogen giving her child to Aria and Ezra to the new Winters couple felt thrown in. And it was then stated three times that she was unable to follow the rules of the adoption agreement.

This problem is compounded by the amount of jumps the episode made when it came to each character's arc. We'd hardly get to see one character's struggle before hopping to another one, which made it hard to invest fully in any of them. It didn't help that both Tabby and Faran kept referencing acronyms that were only actually explained once.

It's not the worst problem that a show could have, but it feels like the writers wanted to continue from Christmas but were forced into picking up in June. Hopefully, this awkward staging becomes less obvious as the season continues where the new threats and mysteries can feel natural and engaging, rather than frustrating to watch.

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School. Cr: WBTV /

The Riverdale element

Finally, there is the Riverdale of everything. Season 1 had a brief namedrop suggesting that Riverdale and PLL were set in the same universe, but this episode felt a lot like Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa trying to remix his favorite elements from his previous show. This doesn't have to be a bad thing, but the foreshadowing the episode provides for the season suggests there might be some questionable crossovers in content between the shows.

The new title sequence, which seems to move from the first season's Halloween-era horror inspirations to the digital horror of Paranormal Activity and The Ring, ties in with the references to Bloody Mary in a way that makes everything feel vaguely supernatural, despite being unwilling to fully commit to the new angle. This is the same trajectory that Riverdale took when moving into its third season.

Furthermore, Kelly's new church is highly reminiscent of Riverdale's Sisters of Quiet Mercy. It seems pretty obvious that they're going down the cult route again, which was generally not well-received when Riverdale tried it back in 2019. Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin was successful because it did something different from what came before it. If the plan is just to make Summer School the new Riverdale, it might not get another season.

VERDICT: Overall, "" was decent. It tied up loose ends, provided some powerful emotional moments, and set up the newest dangers facing the Liars. Unfortunately, structural elements within the episode seem to indicate that aesthetic concerns trumped the needs of the story, which will greatly hinder the show's effectiveness if it continues past the first episode.

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School streams new episodes Thursdays on Max.

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