Glee and Pretty Little Liars have a lot in common — and not just the fact that they are adored by AfterEllen.com readers. Both shows feature adult actors — lustable for all ages — playing high school characters. Both shows operate in surreal universes where murder and dueting with Neil Patrick Harris are normal things that happen before lunch. And both shows have birthed passionate online fandoms. And you know what else? They’re both a helluva lot of fun to watch.
But with Glee on winter hiatus and Pretty Little Liars getting ready to make its winter debut, we think it’s the perfect time for the singing show to learn a few lessons from the axe-murdering show.
1. Camp and character can co-exist! Whenever I complain about Glee‘s lack of character consistency, people always tell me to lighten up, because Glee is high camp. Well, you know what else is high camp? Watching your dead best friend’s homemade porno projected onto the side of a mausoleum while you go frolicking through the graveyard in the middle of the night on a study break. Which is an actual thing that happened on Pretty Little Liars last season. And yet, Liars writers ground their characters with authentic relationships and organic character growth. For the surreal to work, you’ve got to anchor it in the real.
2. “Continuity” is not a dirty word! Some time after the second season of Glee — you know, 50 episodes into his own show — it occurred to Ryan Murphy that TV viewers are interested in plot. He said so, out loud. “I think people want to see stories when they watch stories.” Sadly, no one ever explained to the seasoned TV writer about that thing called “cause and effect.” It seems like the writers of Glee approach each character’s backstory as a blank slate for each episode. And we’re not talking, like, changing up favorite ice cream flavors. We’re talking full-on lobotomy-style “today I’m trying to murder you with my bare hands, tomorrow we’re best friends” kind of changes. When you’re watching Pretty Little Liars, if a girl gets blinded by a firecracker for making out with her brother, you can be damn sure she’s going to stay blind — until she gets an eyeball transplant in the hospital basement.
3. Girls don’t need boys to rescue them! If a dude needs to come out as a gay dude on Glee, he comes out. If a girl needs to come out as a gay girl on Glee, a boy does that for her. If a dude needs to be an awesome single parent on Glee, he is an awesome single parent. If a woman needs to be an awesome single parent on Glee, she cries on the floor over un-assembled baby furniture until a high school boy can come over and fix it for her. But on Pretty Little Liars, when a lady needs something, she does it herself. Needs money? She robs a bank. Needs to get into college? She does a little admissions fraud. Needs to dress like a character from The Great Gatsby Goes to Mars? She sews those clothes herself. Morally dubious? Maybe. But righteously independent!
4. All of your writers should know all of your characters! If a member of the Pretty Little Liars creative team says two characters kissed on the show, then two characters kissed on the show. The incomparable Marlene King leads the largest Twitter army in the world — Pretty Little Liars was the most tweeted-about show of 2011, after all — and they know how to interact with fans. The poor Glee team doesn’t even seem to know for sure if a relationship is “off” or “on” sometimes. Maybe it’s because creators Brad Falchuck and Ryan Murphy spend half their lives contradicting one another in interviews. Those two need to get on the same page, and bring their writing team along with them.
5. If your lesbian character is universally adored, give us more! You know who everyone loves? Emily Fields. You know who gets equal screen time with her co-stars? Emily Fields. You know who else everyone loves? Santana Lopez. You know who doesn’t get equal screen time as her female co-stars? Santana Lopez. And it’s not just us gays that want more of her. Check any comments section on any recap anywhere on the web, and you’ll see the cry: “MORE SANTANA PLEASE.” And we ALL-CAPS agree.
Do you think Glee is doing all right? Or should they accept some schoolin’ from Pretty Little Liars?