Pretty Little Liars: Subverting the ‘Teen Genre’


From the promotional photo above, Pretty Little Liars initially appears to be a conventional high school drama. However, it soon becomes apparent that it is in fact subversion of series such as Lizzie McGuire, Zoey 101 and Girl Meets World. Indeed, Pretty Little Liars centres on five high school girls, a typical character ensemble of the genre, but this is disrupted by the fact that one goes missing and is eventually reported to be dead. Following her death, the remaining girls start to get blackmailing text messages from an anonymous source known as ‘A’ and the rest of the series consists of them attempting to solve A’s identity. Rather than focusing on ‘teen issues’ conventional of the genre then, Pretty Little Liars turns them on their head and more closely resembles a horror or whodunit. Indeed, rather than focusing on the girls’ experience with school, family and friends, it is stalkers, sociopaths and live burials that occupy their attention. For instance, the conventions of the ‘prom episode’, a fundamental plot point in the teen genre, are distorted. Rather than ending the episode with the cliched dance between the protagonist and her date beneath twinkling lights in the school cafeteria, Pretty Little Liars has one of its girls running in fear from her prom date in suspicion that he might have murdered her friend. The episode ends with the her hospitalised due to a head injury she received while fleeing from him. The opening sequence of the series, furthermore, similarly distorts the conventions of the genre. A typical sequence would consist of the protagonist dancing with their friends or preparing for school, i.e. brushing their hair, trying on various outfits and smiling in the mirror as the credits role and in Pretty Little Liars, it initially seems to show something similar. Indeed, we see what appears to be a girl applying makeup, nail polish and shoes. However, we soon see that someone else is doing this for her. As the camera pulls back, it is revealed that her friends are in fact preparing her body for her funeral as a coffin chillingly slams shut and her friends are shown standing above in black.

While Pretty Little Liars clearly subverts the conventions of the teen genre, a genre that purports to represent the ‘teenage experience’, it is in fact a more accurate portrayal of teenage life where consistent paranoia, stalking, and violence are commonplace. Indeed, texting and social media can turn frightening when cyber bullying comes into play, a prom date can turn dangerous and teenagers certainly do get murdered. Such ‘teen issues’ are rarely addressed in series such as Lizzie McGuire. By subverting the genre that claims to represent teenage life then, Pretty Little Liars gets closer to accurately depicting it.

Here is the opening theme of Lizzie McGuire:

And here is the more macabre opening sequence of Pretty Little Liars:

An article that further discusses Pretty Little Liars’ subversion of the teen genre and its relation to the films of Alfred Hitchcock:


Milne, Isabella. ‘Codes and Conventions of the teen genre.’ Slideshare, 11 Aug. 2013. Accessed 10 Mar. 2015. Web.

Pretty Little Liars. I. Marlene King. Warner Bros. Television, 2011-present. Television.


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