The showrunners, ratings, and fan base clearly didnít agree with me. Pretty Little Liars: The Complete Third Season builds on the previous two seasonsí mix of teen drama and I Know What You Did Last Summer-styled mystery, pushing the show even closer to levels of absurdity only possible in a teen-targeted drama.
As with previous season reviews, Iíll avoid spoilers as best as possible.
Season 3 picks up five months later. Mona (Janel Parrish) is revealed as the person behind "A" and the girls head to their senior year of high school. What should be one of the best years of their young lives becomes a tortuous one. Mona may be locked up in a sanitarium, but the messages from "A" keep coming just as the girls are beginning to move on from Alisonís death. On top of that, they find out "A" isnít one person, but a network of people led by a red-coated woman.
The season is split into two major plotlines with the girls' personal stories pulling both together. The first half deals with a set of circumstances growing out of the exhumation of Alisonís grave, while the second delves into the identity of the woman leading theÖ ahem, "A Team." The girlsí individual storylines are more inline with other teen dramas, but with each also searching for answers in their own ways.
Emily (Shay Mitchell) hits rock bottom after losing both Alison and Maya (Bianca Lawson), while Hanna (Ashely Benson) struggles with the revelation that her best friend was the original "A." Aria (Lucy Hale) continues to work through her familyís laundry list of issues, including her parentís separation, while also keeping up a relationship with Ezra (Ian Harding). Meanwhile, Spencerís (Troian Bellisario) relationship with her sister plummets and her relationship with Toby moves forward.
In general, the various plotlines arenít bad. One great thing about the show is how it manages to ask and answer questions in relatively short order. This is vastly different from something like, say, Lost, where plot elements would spin their wheels from a few episodes before asking a bigger question. Answers arenít immediate, but are frequent enough that I never felt I was being strung along.
At the same time, the show is always quick to shy away from really interesting character developments in favor of well-worn plotlines. There are numerous opportunities for character growth throughout the entire season that would yield several interesting stories, especially as it relates to members of the A Team, but those elements are either left on the table or completely fizzle out. To me, it seemed the show was more interested in layering the mysteries rather than giving the characters interesting places to go within the mysteries. Some of the new plots and conspiracies are intriguing, but you can only layer on so much before the absurdity level skyrockets into ridiculousness. Some plots Ė especially Spencerís Ė show a lot of promise, but are a complete bust by the end of the season.
My biggest complaints stem from the girlsí almost Scooby Gang type luck. Answers and revelations are stumbled upon with some frequency. All four do their own parts in trying to solve things for themselves, but at times, I struggled to find how their efforts led to the discovery. Though, at the same time, a couple of the bigger reveals are well-telegraphed.
Season 3 comes packed with a couple of extras fans will find interesting. The two "biggies," are a collection of short webisodes, which manage to deepen the overall plot against the Liars. The episodes arenít mandatory viewing, nor do they introduce plot elements vital to the show (or so it seems). The problem is, Iím not entirely sure when these should be viewed. I can see them working as a great mid-week lead-in for fans, but once the season is over, they are really just filler unless these are laying some groundwork for the next season.
Another neat extra for fans features the actorís theories on what is happening on the show. Similar to the webisodes, nothing major comes out of the interviews, but it is fun to hear the actors speculate on what will happen in the future.
Finally, thereís a gag reel and deleted scenes (including an alternate ending) that perfectly illustrate why some scenes are destined for the cutting room floor.
Pretty Little Liars: The Complete Third Season is not a bust by any stretch of the imagination. But, it isnít as strong an entry as previous seasons either. The attempts to keep the series premise arenít stretched to their limits, but I could definitely hear the faintly strained groans of plotlines as the season progressed.