Book-to-TV adaptations are not the same as book-to-movie adaptations.
They are more complex, require drastic changes to the storyline’s pacing, and create new “what-ifs” that were not in the books.
So, it is essential not to compare every detail for book-to-TV the way you might with book-to-movie.
That being said, sometimes TV adaptations are just too much.
They change everything about the books to the point where they are completely unrecognizable, for the worst. It goes beyond the story — everything that made the books fundamentally special disappeared on the TV show.
Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars is a perfect example of this disaster. What started as a typical book-to-TV adaptation ended as one of the biggest trainwrecks in the history of adaptations.
Now, let’s be clear — despite the liars having different appearances in the books, this factor does not matter if the actors understand their characters, which is the case for Pretty Little Liars.
The show’s casting was perfect despite the liars looking differently. However, the rest of the series? Not so much.
There are many reasons why Pretty Little Liars deviated for the worse from the books. The list may never end, but there are a few critical factors that significantly worsened the show.
To be fair, the show was decent for its first two seasons. It was only after Pretty Little Liars Season 2 when things went downhill.
The pilot introduced Wren Kingston, Melissa’s fiancé, who immediately catches Spencer’s eye.
Her forbidden attraction to Wren follows the book, except that in the book, his name is Wren Kim, a British Korean doctor. The show erased his Korean side, which effectively white-washed him.
There are already not many Korean characters in fiction, and the show took the representation away from him.
Pretty Little Liars Season 1 Episode 12 showed us the truth about Toby and Jenna — Jenna forced Toby into a sexual relationship, making Toby a sympathetic character.
This action did not sit well with readers because Toby abused Jenna in the books; readers can only ever see him as an abuser. Once the show flip-flopped their dynamic, Toby mostly had a clean slate, which made room for an on-and-off relationship between him and Spencer Hastings.
But even viewers have reason to dislike Toby’s character — Pretty Little Liars Season 3 Episode 12 revealed he was A’s accomplice.
We find out on Pretty Little Liars Season 3 Episode 24 that Toby joined A’s team to protect Spencer, but it was a pathetic excuse. You don’t protect someone you love by causing them pain, no matter what you tell yourself.
Regardless of whether you read the books or jumped straight into the show, Toby Cavanaugh either sexually abused his step-sister or betrayed the liars by joining A’s team.
However, the writers chose to sympathize with him, and he eventually got a happy ending with Spencer, the girl he betrayed.
Pretty Little Liars was a trainwreck regardless of the novels. Excluding book comparisons, the show quickly went downhill after Pretty Little Liars Season 2, as A’s team grew with Red Coat, Charles, and Black Swan.
The pinnacle let the audience down. There is only one way to describe the big reveal on Pretty Little Liars Season 6 Episode 10: anticlimactic.
The last reveal on Pretty Little Liars Season 7 Episode 20 was an even bigger disappointment.
Alex, Spencer’s long lost twin sister, had so much potential. It could have been the greatest plot twist on the history of television if done correctly.
But no hints led up to the finale. Alex was so out of the blue; it almost seemed like the writers rushed to get something out there, so they went with the first idea that came to mind.
For another comparison, there was a similar reveal in the books. However, the difference is staggering. There are hints about the twin as early as the fourth book, and then they are scattered profusely until the big reveal.
The reveal in the books was mindblowing in every way, but in hindsight, it made sense. Alex Drake did not make sense in retrospect at all. She was clearly unplanned.
There are a few other things about Pretty Little Liars that made the show a complete disaster, like Aria Montgomery’s endgame.
She ended up with Ezra Fitz, her former English teacher from high school. They began dating on Pretty Little Liars Season 1 Episode 1 when Aria was underaged, and Ezra was a full-grown adult.
Their relationship was present in the early novels, but they eventually broke up. When Ezra returns several books later, Aria realized how their coupling was wrong from the beginning, and how they should have never been together.
In the books, Aria ended up with someone her age, and while they had their issues, the couple made sense as an endgame.
Unfortunately, we cannot say the same thing for the show because they made Aria and Ezra’s relationship much worse. Not only was Ezra a stalker (under the guise of “writing a book about Alison”), but he also dated Alison when she was fifteen.
Granted, he broke up with her once he realized she was underaged, and their relationship was never sexual. However, that certainly did not stop him from seeing Aria, his underaged student, a year later. And that relationship was undoubtedly sexual.
How on earth did the writers think making Aria and Ezra endgame was a good idea? He was creepy as hell, and he had a history with dating and stalking underaged girls.
Pretty Little Liars also erased Hanna Marin’s Jewishness and Emily Fields’s bi/pansexuality. While lesbian representation is vital, representation of LGBTQ+ sexuality should not come at the expense of another underrepresented LGBTQ+ sexuality.
Furthermore, the show certainly indulged themselves by killing Maya St. Germain, a black LGBTQ+ character, and Emily’s main love interest for the first two seasons.
Maya never even died in the books, which meant that Pretty Little Liars killed off a queer woman of color for shock value.
And there is no valid reason for pretending Hanna Marin was not Jewish, especially since Jewish characters are already scarce.
The reality is, the list of mistakes Pretty Little Liars made is much longer. We can go on forever, but everything mentioned is definitely enough to prove why the show was not as hot as it seemed to be in its early days.
Now it is your turn, Fanatics!
What do you think of Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars? Did you think it was a good show or were there serious pitfalls? Were the A reveals everything you wanted? If you read the books, what do you think about the changes the show made?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Sarah Novack is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.