The reason that Pretty Little Liars was such a successful series-- able to last seven seasons and spawn at least two spinoffs-- is that, at its best, it could be downright addictive. After all, once you invested in the show’s core characters and its many mysteries, it drove you to tune in in order to find answers and see the next ridiculous situation the Liars found themselves in. The bond beween the four leads and their many romances also kept fans riveted for years.
Despite Pretty Little Liars’ strengths as a TV series, the fact remains that the people that wrote the series sometimes dropped the ball in massive ways. In fact, when it comes to the show’s most memorable story elements, the only thing that fans could count on is that some would be great while others left viewers rolling their eyes in frustration. With that in mind, it is time to look at which storylines worked, and which did not.
In order for one of Pretty Little Liar’s storyline to be considered for possible inclusion on this list, it first and foremost needs to stand out from many of the show’s less important developments. From there, it either needs to have made the show significantly better or taken away from what viewers loved so much about the series. Finally, it should be noted that even short-term storylines were in the running, as long as they were memorable enough to have made a large impact on the show’s legacy.
Here are 13 Storylines That Hurt Pretty Little Liars (And 7 That Saved It).
20 Saved: Spencer is Mary Drake’s Daughter
Despite being born into one of the most dysfunctional families in the history of prime time television, Spencer Hastings spent her early years blissfully unaware of her true origins. Eventually revealed to be the biological daughter of Mary Drake, the exact circumstances of Spencer’s conception come straight out of the soap opera playbook. After all, Spencer’s biological mother got pregnant with her while masquerading as her twin sister and she also was born inside a Sanitarium.
Amidst all of that-- and the fact that Spencer’s parents kept the circumstances of her birth from her-- it was really nice to see Spencer's mother, Veronica Hastings, explain how much she loves her daughter, regardless of where she came from.
19 Hurt: Ravenswood
Introduced to the world of Pretty Little Liars as a backdoor pilot for the spin-off series with the same name, the Ravenswood storyline added nothing to the series that spawned it. Instead, when the Liars made their way to the town of Ravenswood, the episode largely focused on starting storylines and introducing characters for the spin-off.
If making an episode of Pretty Little Liars a waste for fans of that show that had no interest in watching Ravenswood wasn’t bad enough, this storyline also resulted in Caleb leaving the show for a while. On top of that, Mrs. Grunwald was a wacky character who ,could have been an interesting addition to the PLL supporting cast but instead, she only appeared in a handful of episodes.
18 Saved: Jenna Regains and Loses Her Vision
Speaking of Pretty Little Liars’ strong supporting cast, Jenna Marshall has to be considered one of the show’s most valuable characters. A perpetual thorn in the side of the Liars and their allies, she always seemed to be working on one scheme or another, which meant that she kept her enemies and PLL fans guessing.
In the best example of that, over the series’ 7 seasons the question of whether or not she could see at any given moment always was in question. Jenna had been accidentally blinded by the Liars' prank before the show began, but fans and the Liars alike wondered how much she could really see. As a result, when it was revealed that she had regained her vision and kept it a secret it was a delicious moment and when she lost her sight again it was intriguing.
17 Hurt: Alison Becomes a Teacher
Pretty Little Liars' season 6 time jump made sense, considering the show’s main cast definitely looked like adults by that point. However, when it comes to the directions that the various main characters had taken during the years we didn’t see, some of them made no sense at all.
By far the most illogical storyline that came as a part of the flash-forward, turning Alison into a teacher could accurately be described as baffling. After all, her character was an awful role model so having her around kids all the time seemed wrong. On the practical side of things, she missed most of her high school years, so the idea that she could become a teacher when she was still so young was hard to buy.
16 Hurt: Spencer’s Addiction Issues
Many drama series opt to give one of their main character’s addiction issues, which can have very mixed results. When it comes to Spencer from Pretty Little Liars developing a dependency, seeing her spin out of control was tiresome, to say the least. After all, her character had already gone through so much and we had no interest in seeing her spin out of control like that.
On top of that, this storyline led to the introduction of the character named Dean, a counselor who had an unnecessary and inappropriate flirtation with Spencer. In the end, Spencer’s issues seemed like another way to extend the show by several episodes without paying off any of the mysteries fans wanted to know.
15 Saved: Emily's Coming Out Story
The impact that Emily Fields has had on young LGBT viewers cannot be overstated. Her coming out story was sensitively and brilliantly handled by Pretty Little Liars. While her father mostly accepted who Emily was quickly, her mother not only struggled with the truth, but even went so far as saying she felt sick to her stomach. Though she was eventually able to mend fences with her mom, the way Emily’s parents reacted to her truth was nothing new for television.
On the other hand, it was a breath of fresh air that not only did the Liars embrace Emily immediately after she came out, but Hanna had even previously offered support when she suspected her friend may like girls.
14 Hurt: Sara Harvey is Red Coat and Black Widow
The epitome of the way Pretty Little Liars could cop out at times, Sara Harvey seemed to have been introduced simply to answer two long-standing mysteries. Long before Sara first appeared on screen, there was a villain known only as Red Coat. On top of that, the show had also introduced another unknown villain, who wore a black veil to Detective Wilden’s funeral, two seasons before viewers knew Harvey existed.
As is the case with most shows that focus on mysteries like that, Pretty Little Liars’ fans spent years speculating who Red Coat and Black Widow were. As a result, when it was revealed that Sara Harvey wore both garments it was infuriating since there was no way fans could have predicted that.
13 Hurt: Alison Gets Pregnant with Emily's Babies
Pretty Little Liars’ fans went along for the ride as the show’s main characters experienced many nightmares come to life. Despite that, what Archer Dunhill and Alex Drake did to Alison and Emily was a bridge too far. Dunhill took the identity of the deceased Dr. Elliott Rollins and married Alison. He then manipulated her into being committed to a sanitarium, where he did awful things to her.
As part of their cruel treatment of Alison, Alex stole some of Emily’s eggs she’d previously had extracted, had them fertilized by Dunhill, and implanted them into Alison, who eventually gave birth to twins. This was such a complete and total violation that it was hard to fathom.
12 Saved: Lucas and Caleb’s Friendship
Two characters that most fans grew to love, Lucas and Caleb both ended up falling for Hanna Marin and on a show like Pretty Little Liars that is the perfect set up for two characters to loathe one another. Though they weren't always on the best of terms due to jealousy and financial issues, Lucas and Caleb still managed to become really good friends.
In fact, when Caleb briefly moved in with Lucas, they became so close that Caleb once blew off hanging out with Hanna to watch The Goonies with his buddy. The only problem with Lucas and Caleb’s friendship is that it was too short lived since they were such a delight together.
11 Hurt: Lyndon James
Pretty Little Liars definitely was not known for its subtlety. Initially believed to be the cousin of the recently deceased Maya St. Germain, Lyndon James came to Rosewood under a false name. Right from the start something seemed to be strange about "Nate." He quickly tried to befriend Maya's former love, Emily.
The revelation that Lyndon was a stalker who took Maya’s life should have been a shocker, but the show had portrayed him like a creeper from day one. Instead, it was annoying that Emily had ever let Lyndon into her life. After all she'd gone through, she should have been more careful. It was a relief when this poorly portrayed character left the show, being dispatched by Emily.
10 Hurt: Lieutenant Tanner Trying to Pin Everything on the Liars
If you wondered why the Liars didn’t go to the police when A first targeted them, you were not alone. However, once we got to know some of Rosewood’s "finest," like Detective Wilden and Garrett Reynolds, their decision made a lot more sense. Unlike those two corrupt men, Lieutenant Tanner is dedicated to her job and never abused her powers for personal gain.
The fact that she seemed to be on the up-and-up only made it more frustrating that she always had the Liars in her crosshairs. While we certainly can admit that the Liars gave Tanner several reasons to be suspicious of them, she also should have recognized them as victims and stopped trying to pin everything on them.
9 Saved: Spencer and Toby’s Romance
Talk about a character who underwent a huge transition! When Toby was first introduced, it seemed like his face was incapable of smiling and he was always going to be skulking around. By the time the show came to an end, however, he was a good guy who most Pretty Little Liars fans wanted to see end up happy with Spencer.
Toby and Spencer’s skills and quirks paired up perfectly. No matter how intense things became in their lives, they remained incredibly loyal to one another. One of the show’s biggest strengths was showing these two having happy times together, and their problems were just as compelling.
8 Hurt: Nicole's abduction
Whether you loved Aria and Ezra as a couple or felt their whole dynamic was creepy, the truth remains that it always seemed clear they were going to wind up together. As a result, when the show was nearing its end, it felt like enough was enough; it was time to stop coming up with reasons to keep them apart. Unfortunately, this show has to be outrageous, so right after Ezra and Aria became engaged he traveled to a jungle to greet his abducted ex-fiancée, Nicole.
Admittedly the show did a good job of explaining why Ezra went to see his ex: he was still with Nicole when she was abducted. However, when Ezra pretended to still be in love with Nicole to her face, at the insistence of her doctors, it was a step too far.
7 Hurt: Byron’s Girlfriend Meredith vs Aria
Byron Montgomery was an absentee father even though he knew his daughter Aria had consistently been in mortal peril and that she was dating her high school teacher. On top of that, while he still was a married man Byron two-timed on his wife. When Aria daughter found out, he put her in an awful position by asking her to keep his betrayal a secret from her mother.
Worse yet, once he and his wife broke up, Byron got back together with his former mistress Meredith and even though he knew his daughter and girlfriend did not get along, he left them alone together. This led to a storyline in which Meredith kept Aria unconscious for several days by slipping things in her drinks. Seeing Aria left in that position by her own father made fans sick.
6 Saved: Hanna and Caleb’s Romance
Easily the most lovable Pretty Little Liars couple, if Hanna and Caleb didn’t end up together when the show came to an end it would have been thought to swallow. After all, even when Hanna fell on hard times, as happened often, she managed to be one of the show’s bright spots. As a result, it was wonderful to see her get involved with a man who clearly adored her and was willing to go to extremes in order to keep her in his life.
If that weren’t enough to let this TV couple into your heart, the chemistry shared by the actors that played Hanna and Caleb, Ashley Benson and Tyler Blackburn, lit up the screen.
5 Hurt: The Ghost Girl
Known to go out all out for its Halloween episodes, Pretty Little Liars even altered its opening credits for its spooktacular episodes. However, just because Pretty Little Liars committed to the spirit of the season does not mean that the show’s Halloween storylines always hit the mark. For instance, during the second season, Alison told a horror story about a deceased little girl who entered the Marin household during the following year’s Halloween episode.
Invited into the home by Ashley Marin, the ghost girl alluded to the circumstances of her demise, claimed to call her mom who cried at hearing her voice, and then disappeared-- never to be seen again. Not even remotely spooky, this storyline instead confused the majority of viewers.
4 Hurt: Cece is Charlotte is A
Ultimately revealed to be the person that was known as A and the leader of the A-Team, Charlotte being a major Pretty Little Liars villain was problematic for more than one reason. First off, her motivations for stalking and tormenting the Liars didn’t seem to be very convincing, since she and Alison weren’t in each other’s lives for very long.
That aside, learning that Charlotte is a DiLaurentis made us realize that she briefly dated her adopted brother/biological cousin Jason, which is creepy in the worst way. Finally, the show only introduced one trans character in its 7 seasons, which made it feel wrong that she turned out to be a deceptive psychopath who does wicked things.
3 Saved: Mona’s Redemption
Mona Vanderwaal was far more interesting than anyone could have guessed after they met her in the pilot. She was a really fun character, and prior to the big reveal related to her character, the show was always funnier when Mona was on the screen. Then it was revealed that Mona was the original A and her character changed completely into an unhinged and unpredictable person who was prone to rages.
Mona was gradually able to redeem herself by sacrificing herself for her old friend Hanna and extensively helping the Liars. She's still a dangerous person that could do scary things, but at the end of the show, she used her dark abilities to wreak revenge on the show’s villains.
2 Hurt: Spencer’s Twin Sister
This is probably the most mocked soap opera trope. Anytime an identical or evil twin is introduced, it is bound to elicit groans. Clearly not afraid of going down that route multiple times, Pretty Little Liars first featured identical twins Jessica DiLaurentis and Mary Drake, the latter of whom arguably was the evil one. However, it wasn’t until the very last episode of Pretty Little Liars that one of the core characters was given an evil twin of her own.
Abducted by someone who looked exactly like her, Spencer turned out to have an unknown twin sister named Alex Drake who was the Uber A. This was a gigantic piece of information to drop on viewers during the series finale. Spencer having a twin felt like yet another lazy way of explaining away many of the show’s mysteries.
1 Hurt: Ezra’s True Crime Novel
When it first became clear that Ezra was stalking the Liars, we were totally intrigued and wanted to see what would happen next. He was even shown to have a secret lai. It seemed like he might have gone to the dark side. Of course, most viewers assumed that we would be given some kind of explanation for his actions, and that he and Aria would get back together.
However, when Aria discovered Ezra’s research and he explained that he was working on a true crime novel about Alison, fans' mouths dropped open in disappointment. After all, true crime books are published all of the time and their writers didn’t stalk anyone. Also, this storyline revealed that Ezra knew Aria was a minor when he first got romantically involved with him which made him even worse. This storyline totally backfired, all for the sake of an A red herring.
What's your favorite storyline in Pretty Little Liars? Let us know in the comments!