Because nothing says friendship like blackmail and high school murderers.
“Got a secret, can you keep it?” Well, I’ve got one: Though Pretty Little Liars ended in 2017, the seven-season mystery thriller schemed its way into being an integral part of my life for the long haul, so much so that the opening credits live in my head rent-free. To this day, each time I hear the sinister theme song — “Secret” by The Pierces — I’m brought right back to my childhood comfort show (ahem, obsession). The visuals begin with a swipe of mascara, the smear of red lipstick, and a clasp of a heel onto a porcelain doll, which makes me feel like I’m watching someone get pampered for prom. Until, of course, it cuts to four girls standing in front of a casket. It's a chilling moment, one that, until Season 6B, ended with Aria Montgomery (Lucy Hale) delivering her iconic “shh.” I got cast under the show’s spell the first time I saw it, and I wasn’t the only one: Pretty Little Liars led me to my best friend.
Ironically, plotlines about deceit and betrayal actually helped ignite a long-lasting friendship. In 2011, the only other person I knew to be watching PLL was my now-BFF, Taylor, who’s been by my side for over a decade. We were only about 11 and 12 when it premiered, so shout out to our parents for letting us watch a show that dealt with very adult themes like substance use disorder, assault, and grief. Unlike our classmates, who watched tween-appropriate hits like iCarly and Victorious, we became PLL stans.
As fans know, the show is loosely based on the Sara Shepard YA series of the same name, and the first book was my entry point into the PLL universe. I loved reading about blackmailers and murderers navigating high school, but I thought I was the only one who was into it. (Was this my ~I’m different~ complex showing, or were my peers just naturally more inclined to recap Dance Moms? I’ll never know.) So, Taylor first struck up a conversation with me at school because she spotted the first PLL book on my desk — you know, the one painted with porcelain wax dolls warning to “never trust a pretty girl with an ugly secret” in a Gothic script. She asked if I’d watched the TV adaptation yet and we immediately exchanged phone numbers to text about upcoming episodes. We then fell into the fandom. Fast.
I’d never talked to Taylor before this interaction — we had only been in a few classes together — but I always saw her as approachable and friendly. Universally, the beginning of middle school is a big and terrifying year when kids from different elementary schools unite. Eager to meet new people, I reached for friendship at any chance I could get. Taylor made it easy. Aside from being a genuinely kind person (a rare trait for a middle schooler!), she was fangirling over the same thing as me.
Fast forward over a decade later, and the show still feels timeless, especially in its accurate depictions of how dramatic high school can get. It’s no surprise there’s a PLL HBO Max reboot on the way along with the remakes of other buzzy shows from that era (hello, 2010s nostalgia). Ah. It was a simpler time. Back then, Freeform was still ABC Family and for me, Tuesdays meant one thing: PLL is on. What first started as a solo viewing experience soon became a designated hangout time, a time slot reserved for me and Taylor to gush over how much we loved Ashley Benson. (We still do!)
The series had a vibe similar to Gossip Girl or Bridgerton in that a mysterious, unidentifiable pot-stirrer keeps fans guessing each episode, but it was arguably so much better since “A,” the anonymous villain, is out for, you know, murder. Ultimately, it was the type of whodunit that made me and Taylor (and millions of viewers) go down a couple of Reddit rabbit holes — remember the “Aria is A” suspicion? — and this is where my and Taylor’s experience with fan theories began.
Oh, and let’s not forget the location. PLL takes place in the fictional suburb of Rosewood, Pennsylvania, and for two girls from Bucks Country — aka the Philadelphia ‘burbs — we ate it up. The beloved “Welcome to the Dollhouse” episode was exceptionally creepy not only because the Liars get locked into a life-size replica of their bedrooms, but also because our real neighborhood looks extremely similar to their hometown. It operates like Rosewood, too, in that small-town gossip travels at lightning speed.
The Pennsylvania-based plotline also made it easier for us to identify with the characters, who felt like extensions of ourselves. In many ways, we got to know each other through their personalities. Taylor is studious and high-achieving, obviously a Spencer. And I owned feather earrings because I saw Lucy Hale sport them in Season 1, so obviously an Aria. Asking “Are you more of a Hanna or an Emily?” held as much weight in 2012 as asking someone their rising sign in 2021. While it might not say much, it also tells you everything you need to know about a person.
PLL got its start right before live-tweeting shows became popularized, so when we weren’t together, I used to text Taylor on my slide-out keyboard phone (only Zillennials will remember) to compare notes without stumbling upon many spoilers. They read something like this: “Caleb and Hanna are soul mates, TBH.” Like every other fan, we theorized about why A had to be Ian… and Melissa… and Jenna… and Mona… and, you get the point. When our elaborate speculations ran cold, we’d pause DVR’d episodes to gather more clues, like glimpses of Red Coat’s face in her second season introduction, or inspections of those eerie-gloved hands assembling dolls and sharpening knives at the end of each episode.
This game of Clue made room for conversations about all the things. We were in high school during the show’s peak, so it felt like the Liars had laid the groundwork for how to operate our school’s halls. Rosewood High was not traditional — uh, multiple students came back from the dead (*cough* Mona and Alison) — but it did prepare us for the stressors of college applications and first romantic relationships. In fact, Benson’s Hanna Marin would be proud of my matchmaking skills because back then, I introduced Taylor to the boyfriend she’s still with today.
As we both grew up with the show, our friendship got even deeper. The Liars weren’t the only ones to share secrets, and I found it incredibly easy to confide in Taylor. She’s trustworthy, level-headed, compassionate, and an excellent listener. She’s someone I know will always pick up on the second ring and is the type of friend to be there with advice, reassurance, and a quick-witted one-liner. She once joked about never needing a diary because we’ve transcribed the past 10 years of our lives via text.
Our bond has remained strong, especially because the most outrageous PLL-esque plotlines of our lives are ones we’ve experienced together. I love Taylor because I don’t have to provide background for my stories. I’m even so familiar with the cast of characters in her life that when someone re-enters after a long period, I like to say they Alison DiLaurentis’ed her.
And on the off-chance she’s not there to witness something meaningful happen to me IRL, she’s always ready to decipher what went down over texts or dinner and drinks — just like we did when we were teens trying to figure out who A was (minus the wine, of course).
The way she can reconstruct my way of thinking and offer up a perspective I hadn’t seen before is almost paranormal. Whether these are Taylor’s naturally given talents or traits learned from peeling back all the layers of the series, I’m not sure. But she’s always there to decode situations with me — whether they relate to a TV show or during moments when I feel lost.
I couldn’t be more thankful that Taylor entered my life and that PLL played a role in our friendship. I feel so incredibly lucky to know someone like her. Plus, now I have someone who is obligated to watch the reboot with me. Ali was right: Friends do share secrets. And she’s ~quite literally~ the reason Taylor’s got all of mine. Spencer and Aria, you’ve got some competition.