Every television show is reliant on its casting director. Finding the perfect actor to play a given role is an incredibly tricky job, and it's extremely easy to mess it up-- so much so that every single show seems to have at least one tragically miscast actor. Teen shows are particularly vulnerable to this, as showrunners are always desperate to find actors their young audience will connect with and admire.
Pretty Little Liars, once the most-tweeted-about show on television, is no stranger to this. With an extremely active, devoted fanbase, getting the right actor for each part became an imperative, but the show didn't always deliver. Relentless online discussions debated not just individual characters, but also how they related to the books and how well the actors portrayed them. When it comes to literally every actor on the show, there is at least one fan who loves them, and at least one fan who hates them.
In this list, we will share our picks for those bad casting decisions that hurt the show, and the good ones that saved it. The "Saved" category should be self-explanatory: they're the actors who kept fans coming back week after week, the ones who gave their characters a spark that made them compelling to watch. The "Hurt" actors are put there for a variety of reasons: sometimes they weren't fun to watch, other times they played a mediocre character and didn't elevate it, or sometimes they just shouldn't have been in the show at all.
These are the 10 Casting Decisions That Hurt Pretty Little Liars (And 10 That Saved It).
20 Hurt: David Coussins—Jordan
Sometimes characters are brought in to disrupt one of Pretty Little Liars' main couples, and the drama they create helps to drive the plot. Other times, these characters are brought in, and their plotlines don't really go anywhere. Jordan Hobart is one of the latter.
The tall, blond, and handsome Jordan was supposed to be a legitimate threat to Hanna and Caleb's relationship, but no one ever believed it.
Even if you could get past David Coussins' slightly out-of-place Australian accent, it was pretty clear that he couldn't take Caleb Rivers' place as Hanna's main squeeze. Caleb's relationship with Spencer ended up being much more interesting, as Coussins just didn't deliver any compelling drama.
19 Saved: Shay Mitchell—Emily
Every show needs a character to act as the moral, emotional center. Emily Fields is that character for Pretty Little Liars, the most caring and compassionate of the four Liars.
That role is deceptively difficult for actors to inhabit, as it can be hard for actors to convey without words that this character is sensitive and kind. Shay Mitchell did just that for Emily.
As fans watched Emily deal with the insanity of A, her coming out and subsequent tumultuous love life, and her occasionally treacherous social world, they couldn't help but root for her all the way. In a show characterized by manipulation, deceit, and revenge, Mitchell brought a needed sense of relief whenever she was on screen.
18 Hurt: Aeriél Miranda—Shana
Shana Fring was a character that suffered from a lot of problems. Actress Aeriél Miranda looked the part, but unfortunately she didn't seem to have the necessary acting experience to really pull off the role.
Fans weren't particularly upset when Shana was bumped off.
Originally brought onto the show to attack the Liars over blinding her beloved Jenna, Shana became one of the least memorable antagonists on a show full of antagonists.
It wasn't really Miranda's fault that Shana never really advanced the plot and felt more like a distraction than anything else, but with a compelling actor, any role can feel fun and important. That didn't happen here.
17 Saved: Lucy Hale—Aria
Aria Montgomery had to deal with a lot. The "artsy" one in the friend group, she had to put up with a creepy dad, a bratty brother, and multiple relationships with grown men, and that was just during high school. Lucy Hale brought her to life, and also brought good chemistry with the rest of the cast.
Hale, who has been acting since 2003, is artsy like Aria, so her portrayal of the character always felt authentic. However, she was also just a touch aloof from the rest of the Liars, as Aria hadn't known Alison as well as the others.
This slight sense of detachment allowed the audience to align with her as their surrogate, experiencing the world of PLL without anything clouding her judgment. Hale was always a fan favorite in this role.
16 Hurt: Cody Allen Christian—Mike Montgomery
This one was really a lose-lose. Cody Allen Christian alienated a lot of Pretty Little Liars viewers from his very first moments on screen, and by the end even his fans were wishing he had been cast differently. Christian played Mike Montgomery, brother to Aria, and for a lot of people he was just off-putting.
Playing Mike with a bratty air that was never particularly endearing or villainous, but rather irritating, Christian still wasn’t universally hated or anything.
When he scored a role on Teen Wolf, his screen time on Pretty Little Liars went down anyway.
It left fans to wonder if the character might not have been better in the hands of another actor.
15 Saved: Vanessa Ray—Charlotte DiLaurentis
Also known as CeCe Drake, Charlotte DiLaurentis was perhaps the most complicated character on Pretty Little Liars. A trans woman, she had spent much of her life in a mental hospital before getting involved in the plot of the show, and went on to be perhaps one of the most compelling characters.
While this depiction of a trans character certainly wasn't the best, actress Vanessa Ray brought her A game to the role of A.
Ray enjoyed playing the villain in the show, and ended up being maybe the most important antagonist in the series. Her game as A kept the show going season after season.
14 Hurt: Jim Abele—Kenneth DiLaurentis
From the pilot onwards, Jim Abele played Alison's father Kenneth DiLaurentis on Pretty Little Liars. His portrayal of the patriarch was emotionally stunted at best, as he seemed whiny and angry all the time, rather than intimidating and sinister.
His lips perennially pursed, Abele only seemed to play Kenneth as affronted and unpleasant, with a specific delivery that meant his lines rarely landed as well as they could have.
I. Marlene King has said that Kenneth DiLaurentis was the real villain of Pretty Little Liars, due to his abusive rejection of Charlotte, but that was never really reflected in this performance.
13 Saved: Chad Lowe—Byron Montgomery
There are a lot of creepy older men in Pretty Little Liars, and for the most part fans kind of wished they didn't exist. Chad Lowe played Aria Montgomery's father Byron, though, and he turned out to be a very effective villain.
Lowe played the part of the creepy dad to a T.
Byron was manipulative and gross, one time convincing Aria to keep quiet about an affair he was having with Meredith, a substitute teacher. Lowe played him in a way where you could immediately tell something was off about him, while appearing to be a normal put-upon dad. Lowe managed to bring out the greasy, darker side to the character in ways that allowed Aria to thwart him, developing her character as well.
He also contributed to the show by directing 15 episodes of the series.
12 Hurt: Yani Gellman—Garrett
Garrett Reynolds was a cop in Rosewood who was a thorn in the Liars' side for some time, through his own incompetence and his corruption. He was also one of the many grown men who dated a teenager, which definitely didn't help.
On top of all that, he was played by Yani Gellman, who never really managed to evoke the fear or hatred that good villains bring out in an audience.
Yeah, he was villainous, but he just wasn't scary.
Gellman never had the chemistry with other actors to make up for it. Garrett tended to suffocate any momentum a scene might be building, and so he was more an irritation to fans than a threat to the Liars.
11 Saved: Torrey Devitto—Melissa Hastings
The only biological child of Peter and Veronica Hastings, Melissa Hastings brought an interesting dynamic to the show. Defined by good intentions that go horribly awry, Melissa seems to be an antagonist for most of the show, but is later revealed to have been trying to protect Spencer through it all.
Needless to say, that's a tricky character to pull off. Torrey Devitto played Melissa, and had to adapt to new motivations more than once.
Originally, she had to be believable as Spencer's mean older sister, but in later seasons she had to be believable as Spencer's misunderstood, caring older sister. Devitto always seemed to make it work, though.
10 Hurt: Will Bradley—Jonny
Jonny Raymond is one of many ill-advised love interests for the one of the Liars, specifically Spencer. What made Jonny so unlikable wasn't the dialogue or the fact that he was generally unimportant to the plot--it was his attitude, which was supplied by actor Will Bradley.
Jonny had a pretentious, unpleasant vibe that made fans wonder why the intelligent Spencer ever got involved with him in the first place.
Jonny was supposed to be creative and edgy, but in the end he was really just annoying, a prop character designed more to develop Spencer than to be important in and of himself.
9 Saved: Ashley Benson—Hanna
Hanna Marin was one of the best loved characters on PLL, thanks to her witty dialogue and good relationship with her friends.
Played by Ashley Benson, Hanna took over as the queen bee of her high school after the passing of her friend Alison. Much less toxic than Alison, Hanna always seemed to be a normal girl who got caught up in the sensationalized plot points of the show.
Perhaps most importantly, Hanna always rose to the occasion, and Benson played her as a girl who seemed to get involved in the dizzying schemes and plots of PLL against her better judgment.
Hanna had a strong moral compass and one of the best romances in the show with Caleb Rivers, all of which was driven by Benson's great chemistry with her co-stars.
8 Hurt: Ryan Merriman—Ian
Part of a disturbingly lengthy tradition of grown male characters who knowingly enter into relationships with the Liars, Ian Thomas had the distinction of being the grossest and least interesting of the bunch. This wasn't helped by actor Ryan Merriman.
Ian was a creep, rightfully portrayed as an antagonist, predator, and pest, but Merriman never gave him much of a personality beyond that.
The character was simply annoying every time he appeared in the show; a presence that made fans frown whenever they had to sit through an episode that featured him. No one was upset when he met his end.
7 Saved: Sasha Pieterse—Alison
What can we say about Alison DiLaurentis that hasn't already been said by the Liars themselves? Alison was a kind of mythical figure in the show, the Liars' former queen bee known for her vicious manipulations and ice-cold emotional state.
Half venerated and half vilified, Alison needed a worthy actress to bring her to life.
Thankfully, Sasha Pieterse proved up to the task, layering a magnetic charisma over sneaky aggression to create a character that fans loved to hate and hated to love.
What's more, Pieterse was only 12 year old when the PLL pilot was filmed, but she still seemed like the manipulative queen of her twenty-something co-stars.
6 Hurt: Dre Davis—Sara Harvey
We couldn't do this list without one of the candidates for least liked characters in Pretty Little Liars history, now could we?
Sara Harvey was one of the key antagonists to the Liars in the sixth season of the show, although she appeared to be a friend at first.
Played by Dre Davis, Sara was written to have been a twist villain all along, despite only showing up at the end.
This didn't work. Fans just couldn't accept Sara somehow being present in the previous seasons (despite obviously not appearing), and Dre Davis didn't do much to improve the character's image. Like many of the disliked antagonists on this list, Sara was later bumped off, and nobody seemed to mourn her.
5 Saved: Nolan North—Peter Hastings
Nolan North used his signature voice to bring a real warmth and care to Peter Hastings, father to Spencer and husband to Melissa.
While the Hastings' family dynamic felt authentic and even caring, at times, it's not like there wasn't a dark side. It was Peter who had multiple affairs (with Mary Drake and Jessica DiLaurentis), leading to the destruction of his marriage. He also repeatedly believed others over his own daughter when she sought his help.
Peter Hasting was a lesson that just because a guy seems like a caring dad, it doesn't mean he isn't hiding a ton of secrets, and North was the perfect vessel for that.
4 Hurt: Missy Franklin—herself
Stunt cameos are almost never helpful to a show's storytelling, and putting Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin into Pretty Little Liars was no exception.
It's not the professional athlete's fault that she isn't great at acting, but PLL should've known better than to put in a pointless guest appearance.
Franklin appears in just one episode of PLL, where she seems to exist only to somehow be friends with Shana Fring and encourage Emily on her swimming career.The end.
Missy Franklin walks out of the show having briefly talked about swimming, and PLL fans got to wonder why the writers thought that conversation would be interesting.
3 Saved: Janel Parrish—Mona
Mona Vanderwaal is perhaps the most unique character in all of Pretty Little Liars. Queen bee, wannabe, outcast, puppeteer, villain, uneasy ally—these were all roles Mona had to play within the larger narrative. Luckily for fans of Pretty Little Liars, actress Janel Parrish proved herself up to the task time after time.
In many ways, Parrish was the glue that held the show together, and Mona was quite possibly the most important character after the Liars themselves. Mona had to wear several hats throughout the series, and she seemed to improve every scene she appeared in. In this way, Janel Parrish is likely the unsung hero of the entire show.
2 Hurt: Ian Harding—Ezra
It’s not that Ian Harding is a bad actor, or even an unlikable one. It’s just that he played a character that should never have been compelling— Ezra Fitz, after all, is a guy who crosses the line with girls and gets away with it.
Ezra dated Aria Montgomery and Alison DiLaurentis, both his own students. This is predatory behavior, not something a cute lead actor should normalize. The whole conception of the character was flawed, as it seemed to aggressively try to make his behavior seem acceptable.
Ian Harding should have been cast as an actual romantic lead, not a creepy guy who stalks teenage girls and then marries one of his former students.
1 Saved: Troian Bellisario—Spencer
At first glance, it might not seem like Troian Bellisario is right for the character of Spencer Hastings. After all, Spencer is in high school, and Bellisario was 24 when the show began. But over the years and through the seasons, Bellisario proved herself a perfect match for the character.
King had so much confidence in Bellisario's performance that she gave her a dual role to play in the show's finale season.
Spencer is a beloved character, known for her intelligence. The most spirited and academically gifted of the Liars, Spencer had to be able to realistically stand up to the manipulative queen bee Alison, and Bellisario gave her the spark that made it believable.
Bellisario also contributed to the series by directing the season 7 episode "In the Eye Abides the Heart".
Who was your favorite actor in Pretty Little Liars? Let us know in the comments!