If Pretty Little Liars, with its privileged, primarily-white characters, was emblematic of TV in its time, HBO Max reboot Original Sin feels similarly representative of ours.
Co-developed by Riverdale boss Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Lindsay Calhoon Bring, the revival diverges little from the original, introducing a new group of teenage girls who find themselves targeted by “A,” an anonymous figure determined to punish them for sins committed by their mothers. What was once the wealthy suburb of Rosewood is now Millwood, a blue-collar Pennsylvania town with far more diversity, but the same web of secrets.
Rebooting a successful series has become a favorite way to feed the beast in the streaming era — HBO Max did it just last year with Gossip Girl, another teen drama that defined the early 2010s — but like Gossip Girl, The Twilight Zone, and other lackluster reboots that came before it, Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin seems content to ride on its predecessor’s coattails, offering little in the way of thematic intrigue or coherent storytelling.
To be fair, the original Pretty Little Liars wasn't exactly Citizen Kane. It, too, was met with middling reviews when it first debuted in 2010, but at least it efficiently introduced its central mystery, established what each of its characters had at stake, and set the scene for what was to come over the course of the season.
Halfway into the first season of Original Sin, basic plot points remain unexplained, like why pregnant teen Imogen (Bailee Madison) moves into the home of another student, filmmaker Tabby (Chandler Kinney), after her mother’s death. Imogen and Tabby don’t seem to be particularly close, and neither were aware that their mothers were even friends, so it makes little narrative sense that Tabby’s mother would take her in, tragedy or not. And yet there’s Imogen every night at Tabby’s dinner table, discussing the latest evil perpetrated by Millwood High queen bee Karen Beasley (Mallory Bechtel).
Original Sin is equally sparing with its mystery. The rebooted “A” is terrifying, and the show leans into horror far more than the soapier original, but as new pieces of the puzzle are doled out episode by episode, there's no effort to piece them together, making it feel less like a coherent story, and more like a heap of disparate ideas smashed together.
Poor pacing and a general aimlessness aren’t the only streaming-specific problems that plague Original Sin. The original series may have looked like sponsored content for the Nordstrom Juniors department, but at least it had a distinct visual presence, with its soft-lit flashbacks and vibrant set design, even in its more chilling moments. Original Sin is all dark blues and grays, giving it the washed out appearance that’s become so common among the Ozark’s of the world. (Curious why The Bear has become the show of the summer? It can’t hurt that it looks so different from everything else on television).
This darkness, both in form and content, of Original Sin undercuts viewers' ability to develop relationships with its characters (many of whom, it should be noted, are totally insufferable). The show's cast is so large that it would already be difficult enough to follow its many storylines and multi-generational secrets, but muting everything only further complicates this task.
Like so many reboots of its ilk, Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin feels like it was slapped together by executives with dollar signs in their eyes and no clear sense of what made the original work. Passable at best, the gravest sin may have been rebooting Pretty Little Liars in the first place.
Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin premieres with three episodes Thursday, July 28 on HBO Max.
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Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.
TOPICS: Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin, HBO Max, Pretty Little Liars, Bailee Madison, Chandler Kinney, Lindsay Calhoon Bring, Maia Reficco, Malia Pyles, Mallory Bechtel, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Zaria