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Pretty Little Liars: Summer School (S2E1-5)

A little over a year ago, I stumbled across Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin on HBO Max. While this spinoff was in no way geared or marketed toward me, I couldn’t help but become engrossed in the 10-episode season. I couldn’t help but find myself highly invested in the story of Imogen Adams (Bailee Madison) and the rest of the Loser’s Club. It was tense, thrilling, and self-aware. Fast forward to 2024, and the Losers Club is back in someone’s crosshairs. Can this group of friends band together to make it through summer school? Or will truancy be the least of their problems? 

Noa and Jen talk outside at night

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School starts fairly close to the final events of Original Sin before making multiple time jumps. The first big, noticeable change from Season 1 to Season 2 is the change in opening credits. Gone is the eerie and foreboding cover of “Secret” and in is a more techno-y sounding, sped-up cover of “Secret.” Summer School immediately starts with an identity crisis. This season may be considered Season 2 of Original Sin, but it still tries to be its own entity. The new opening credits start the series off feeling different, and not in a great way. Granted, I have never seen Pretty Little Liars, so if it’s canon to have a new cover of “Secret” each season then that’s beyond me.

Summer School’s insistence on a new opening credit sequence and new season title starts the season off on a questionable note. In an attempt to start the show off at level 11, Summer School throws everything at the wall with Episode 1. It’s oversaturated with time jumps and exposition, making it feel incredibly forced. Thankfully, the season starts off with a two-episode release. I was not sold from Episode 1. Episode 2, though, is where the show takes a step back and a deep breath.  

Almost every main character has their own new supporting character added to their storyline, giving us opportunities to see each character grow in new and exciting ways. These new story additions are handled very well and do not feel forced or over the top. Each new story addition blends perfectly into the story we’ve been given and sets up more perilous plot points for audiences to pine over. 

There is one huge issue I have with this season, and it’s unfortunate for how much it’s used: the internet. More specifically, a website called Spooky Spaghetti (is this a Last Podcast reference?). True crime fans come together and create a website called Spooky Spaghetti where they can share fan art, theories, short films, and stories about A. The implementation of Spooky Spaghetti works well in this season and is an excellent tool used to progress the story. The issue falls in just how… ridiculous it sounds every time someone says Spooky Spaghetti. Audiences could be deep in an emotional moment and then a character starts earnestly referring to Spooky Spaghetti and it just really kills the vibe. This could just be a personal aversion, but it just feels too childish and on the nose for this TV-MA show. 

Noa walks down a road of rose petals

In an attempt to be grander than Season 1, Season 2 dips its toes into many different subgenres. While Season 1 was more of a straightforward and linear slasher tale, Season 2 plays around in supernatural and folk horror subgenres. If you were expecting a concise yet twisting slasher season then you’re in for a wild genre ride!

Bailee Madison still leads the show, though we do fall into more of a cohesive ensemble piece than Season 1. As with Season 1, my favorite character is Mouse (Malia Pyles), as her character just meshes more with my personality. But it’s impressive to see how Noa’s actor Maia Reficco has grown as an actor in just two years. That’s not to say she was bad in Season 1, but you can unquestionably tell Reficco has stepped up her acting chops and nearly steals the show.

Now, I won’t reveal anything about the killer’s appearance or background, but there are a few things that need to be said. There’s something about the hulking and menacing presence of A in Season 1. He’s visually frightening and has the body count to back the scares up. Who’s the killer in Season 2? I won’t tell. What I appreciate about the antagonist in Season 2 is their choice of weapon. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but how the killer wields it is impressively handled. On top of that, the antagonist’s herky-jerky motion invokes a J-horror homage, making this absolutely horrifically-looking antagonist even scarier. 

Broaching the topic of homages, Summer School throws SO many references at you, just like Original Sin did. Only, the showrunners must have decided to amp that up to a 12. As I was watching Season 2 and taking my notes, I kept tally marks of every homage or reference I noticed, and after about the 30th reference, I decided to stop keeping count. From Skinamarink to a visual Exorcist III homage, this season would be enough to pique Randy Meeks’s attention. 

Kelly and Greg sit in church pews

If you can get through the hastily slapped-together first episode, Season 2 eventually falls into a rhythm that works. Imogen’s character gets put through the wringer and is a great anchor point for the season. If you were a huge fan of Original Sin, Summer School will feel like a whole new entity. Except for Episode 1, Summer School feels like the way a second season should be handled. As Randy Meeks said in Scream 2, the body count is always bigger in sequels. Are summer flings meant to be this terrifying?

Written by Brendan Jesus

Brendan is an award-winning author and screenwriter. His hobbies include magnets, ghouls, and finding slugs after a fresh rain.

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