9:00 pm EDT, March 20, 2019

‘The Perfectionists’ season 1, episode 1 review: Another mystery begins

The 'Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists' premiere is an impressive expansion of the established universe

631 days. That’s how long we had to wait for The Perfectionsts to begin after the series finale of Pretty Little Liars. And it was definitely worth what felt like an endless wait.

Sasha Pieterse and Janel Parrish reprise their roles of Alison DiLaurentis and Mona Vanderwaal, respectively, as the two find themselves together in a new town — Beacon Heights — with possibly even more secrets than Rosewood.

The Perfectionists season 1 isn’t holding back. Rife with a cast full of stars, the only thing more interesting than the characters is the new mystery that the ingenious I. Marlene King has already sucked me into.

The Perfectionists season 1, episode 1 review

After watching the series premiere, it’s clear that this show is going to be a critical success, especially having learned from the mistakes and missteps of its predecessor. The Perfectionists is almost nothing like the books, save for a few character names and the murder of Nolan Hotchkiss, but that is what helped this episode shine.

Rosewood no more

Will we always miss Aria, Spencer, Hanna, and Emily? Definitely. Those four girls started this incredible journey with all of us almost an entire decade ago, but there are still two original cast members that definitely deserve some support as their characters take the next steps in their lives.

If you go into this series expecting it to be like the original, you’re going to be disappointed. While there are similarities, including the name, this isn’t the same show. Pretty Little Liars was the four girls; this is a new journey with some loose ties back to what we originally loved about the series.

It’s unclear exactly what path the writers will go down, especially since the focus of the premiere was to set up the murder mystery and the characters.

Additionally, with such a long break in between filming for the pilot and the remainder of the season, Freeform could have possibly given the writers input that could drastically shift the tone of the series in the second episode.

Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists series premiere

It is obvious that Freeform and the writers have learned a few things from their seven years in Rosewood. Already, the mystery is compelling, dark, and twisted, which really wasn’t the case when Pretty Little Liars premiered on ABC Family. The family network had to keep things rather PG, so while Alison’s disappearance and murder were intriguing, the details (as they were fleshed out) were, kind of, lackluster.

Already, The Perfectionists is sexy, twisted, and very dark, which is going to create quite the backdrop for the mystery that’s about the envelope this town.

How does ‘The Perfectionists’ tie into the original show? (Other than the obvious)

There are similar themes throughout the Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists series premiere that are reminiscent of the original; however, the episode flows much better and it’s clear that King and her fellow writers have learned and are ready to expand this universe. Unsurprisingly, the series begins with secrets. Everyone (except Alison) has a secret, once again, which is a throwback to the pilot episode of the original. This time, however, Alison isn’t playing the mean girl and holding all of their secrets against them.

No, that role has been taken by someone else. As we saw brief glimpses of after the flash-forward in season 6, Alison is striving to go from “mean girl to mentor” and use her past to help others avoid falling down a similar path. That’s what brings Alison to Beacon Heights. Her new position at Beacon Heights University, BHU, gives her a fresh start and allows her to actually help students without her own past being used against her.

(It didn’t work in Rosewood because of students like Addison. The students who loved to torment Ms. DiLaurentis.) Alison saw a chance for a fresh start, with a little help, and took it. Alison’s growth throughout the original series is primarily showcased in the Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists series premiere.

Additionally, the dead girl who isn’t really dead being Taylor Hotchkiss, Alison’s doppelganger, is a throwback to the original, but I wonder why, of everything she could have done, she chose to fake her own death. Also, how did she fake her own death? Is there another Bethany Young in her grave?

The Perfectionists

Of the new characters, I am most interested in Ava and what she’s hiding from the world. We’ve only just seen a glimpse into the mess that her family left her in when they embezzled millions from her father’s clients and took off, but it’s clear that Ava has been fighting this and she’s quite tired of having to work so hard to prove she’s different from her family.

Despite being the only one Nolan wasn’t blackmailing (as of now), Ava seems the darkest of the bunch. Ava’s aura is radiating like Jenna Marshall’s, and how her wires will cross with Alison and Mona should be very entertaining.

Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists series premiere

Caitlin also stood out to me because of her fake involvement with Nolan and her prediction of exactly how he was murdered. It should go as no surprise that Dylan and Ava will likely look to Caitlin as a suspect, considering the killer chose her exact words when deciding how to take Nolan out and protect their secret. As for me, I already have a suspect, and you can check it out on our Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists season 1 guide.

Everyone in this town has a secret. Some less brutal than others (Dylan’s cheating, Caitlin’s mom cheating), but some are sure to shock us as the writers go darker than they have ever been able to before.

Nolan’s murder was already more gruesome than any we saw on the original, and it’s sure to only get worse as we discover what truly happened that night and who took Nolan’s life.

More risks

Unlike the original series, which heavily borrowed from the book series to establish themselves in the world, The Perfectionists is already taking risks. Including Alison and Mona was an interesting choice, but it paid off, as Sasha and Janel share a chemistry that was all too often ignored in Pretty Little Liars (as were their characters).

Taking two of the main four perfectionists away and instead writing a gay man was another risk because the chemistry between the four girls was what helped Pretty Little Liars climb to the top.

If the network and writers are willing to push the boundaries this far already, I cannot wait to see how the series progresses, especially as Freeform is becoming more of a cable network and opening up to swearing, sex, and other beyond PG-13 things.

It’s off to a stronger start

After re-watching Pretty Little Liars, like, literally over 100 times, I can honestly say that Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists gets off to a better start than the original.

One of the biggest issues for the original in the first season, especially the first ten episodes, was finding its footing. The dialogue was awkward, the actors took a little while to warm up to each other, and the show didn’t really know exactly what direction it was headed in yet.

The best part of this spin-off is that it is set in the universe that the writers have already established. Not only that, but with Sasha and Janel along for the ride, two of the stars are already quite comfortable (together and in their roles), which allows for the new players to feel more at home on set.

Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists series premiere

Final thoughts

From the premiere, it is apparent that the new actors didn’t struggle as much as actors usually do when filming a pilot episode. Plus, the writers already know their rough game plan for this series and how things work at Freeform, so they’re comfortable as well.

All in all, the series premiere of Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists season 1 was a lot better (and much more entertaining) than I had originally expected it to be. I had my doubts about a spin-off series, though I always intended to watch, but it’s clear that this decision is going to really pay off.

Bringing in Alison and Mona wasn’t necessary, but it’s helping me, personally, to be even more excited about this show. Alison and Mona were far too interesting on the original series to be relegated to the background and have their abilities diminished as often as they were, so seeing these girls lead the mystery, and work through their issues with one another to become friends, is the best follow-up chapter I could have imagined for Pretty Little Liars.

Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists continues Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on Freeform!

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