Photo: Courtesy of ABC Family.
I have to start this story with a confession. I am a Pretty Little Liars fan. I am not talking someone who watches it now and again. I mean Tuesday night plans have been canceled to watch the show, I have rewatched almost every episode, and I could probably win any Rosewood trivia game. So, when given the chance to watch the cast do a read-through and then watch the finale on the big screen, I was in.
But, that lack of hesitation didn’t make the evening less surreal. I am not sure anything but being a teenage fangirl could prepare me for the decibel of the evening, the dance moves, or even some of the promotional activities.
While waiting for the read-through to start, the crowd enjoyed popcorn and soda (or wine), answered Rosewood trivia, and
participated in watched dance competitions to win signed memorabilia. Two things became clear — the demographic of this show can not be tied up in one simple number range, and at times, the show itself may be confused who they are trying to appeal to. What was clear is that they wanted us all to be on social media. At any given time we could see the total number of tweets for the episode, the number of tweets per minute, and what PLL hashtags were trending. Clearly, we were told to leave our phones out. We were even asked to wave them in the air several times.
It is rare that the curtain of TV is pulled back enough that fans get to see the inner workings. And, it was refreshing to get to see the actresses as people instead of characters. And, we also got some insight into the cast's regular workday habits — Troian Bellisario’s (Spencer) won the evening with her hilarious faces in reaction to the script's reveals, Ashley Benson (Hanna) continually had to be reminded it was her turn to read, Vanessa Ray (CeCe) admitted to being nervous when reading her first line of the night, and Ian Harding’s (Ezra) charisma shines through the more sinister his character gets. But, perhaps the nights' genius was that it allowed us to truly witness the chemistry between Sasha Pieterse (Ali) and the rest of the cast before her character joins the land of the living (and series regular) next season. I would argue that she gave the read-through the most life.
Photo: Courtesy of ABC Family.
A couple of lines were omitted from the read-through, but more or less, we spent 30 minutes watching what we had just heard the cast read. Yet, we still laughed at the jokes we heard less than an hour before. We still clapped, ahh-ed, and screamed at the appropriate moments. From the first scene where Noel finally reappeared (but, seriously, where has he been for the last season and a half?), the crowd went silent.
During the commercial breaks, there were questions and answers with the cast. We watched Troian evade questions about her engagement, learned that Ashley and Shay Mitchell (Emily) are truly inseparable, Ashley’s favorite onscreen kiss is Tyler Blackburn (Caleb), and the whole cast finds the Hastings family to be creepy. But, mainly we watched the cast tweet continuously to their fans, including the ones just a room away from them.
But, the highlight of the night was during the last 30 minutes when the real reveals began. That may be the most genius part of the show’s marketing plan. They will give almost everything away, except for the parts they know the audience will continue discussing for the next week. When the crowd registered Ezra was shot, the audience gasped. A girl sitting a few rows up from me actually broke down crying, and was still crying after the show while in line for the bathroom. The room got silent as Ali’s mother was getting buried alive (not long after we learned she had buried her daughter alive), and disappointed groans filled the room as we realized the teaser had lied and A was not getting unmasked, again. As the screen went dark, phone lights lit the room as people went straight to Twitter with their thoughts, adding on to the statistics still prominently being displayed. Because ABC Family has helped create an environment where watching an episode and tweeting go hand in hand.
I will be honest, the environment was infectious. I tweeted reactions to the show. And, I am okay with that. But, I also want to live in a world where I don’t need my phone to keep a show alive. I am not sure if the other “adults” in the room were comparing their high school TV show experiences to the screening, but I was. I couldn’t help but wonder if Veronica Mars would have survived more than three seasons if social media had been as prevalent? I wondered if the networks would have forced The OC to stay on air if viewers could have made #marissaatwood trend during the season three finale.
But, I definitely would have loved to attend an event like this for any of the shows I watched before. No matter what anyone says, when we sit down in front of the TV (or computer screen), we are trying to connect with something more than ourselves. We want to connect with the characters we are watching, with universal themes, and with the fan community. And, this night let us connect with the show on a whole new level.