The 15 Most Problematic ‘Pretty Little Liars’ Storylines Ever

Pretty Little Liars

The 15 Most Problematic ‘Pretty Little Liars’ Storylines Ever

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The 15 Most Problematic ‘Pretty Little Liars’ Storylines Ever

Look, we love Pretty Little Liars. We get obsessed with our OTPs and we’re hunting down all the clues to figure out who “A” is. That being said, it takes a true Pretty Little Liars fan to admit when the show gets it wrong.

While we adore the show’s often-underrepresented look at positive female friendships, there have been issues Marlene and the rest of the showrunners have not handled with that kind of grace.

Click through the slideshow for the top 15 times the show veered into some problematic storylines.

Pretty Little Liars airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on Freeform.


The 15 Most Problematic ‘Pretty Little Liars’ Storylines Ever
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1. The Emison baby

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1. The Emison baby

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This storyline was problematic from the get-go. Just a reminder how troublesome this is: “A.D.” stole Emily’s eggs she was donating, fertilized them, and implanted them in Alison without either of their consent.

In short, it’s using reproductive assault as a “wild and crazy” storyline, just another thing that “A.D.” is doing to torment the Liars. There’s no other way to look at it: Alison was raped. She was violated in a horrific way, and to use it as just another “dark” storyline is seriously questionable, at best. 

Plus, the fact that this storyline was used on the only two LGBTQ main characters only makes it more problematic. 

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2. The Charlotte “A” reveal

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2. The Charlotte “A” reveal

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The first and (as far as we currently know) only transgender character ever to appear on Pretty Little Liars ended up being the biggest villain the show has had so far. It’s unclear how the showrunners couldn’t see why this is problematic.

We couldn’t put it better than The Female Gaze did, right after the episode aired. They called the depiction of Charlotte a “troubling representation of a transgender woman, who fell victim to sloppy writing that resulted in her characterization as a ‘deceitful and manipulative transwoman’ trope instead of a victim of patriarchal values, as the writers intended.” 

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3. Killing off Charlotte

3. Killing off Charlotte

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After the backlash to Charlotte’s “A” reveal, the show seemed to respond by just immediately killing off her character. She barely got a chance to be a real human person after she revealed herself as the big bad, just making this whole transgender villain situation even more troublesome.

And even if you don’t believe Charlotte is dead, she currently may as well be, because we haven’t spotted her on screen in ages. 

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4. The high school Ezra and Aria relationship

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4. The high school Ezra and Aria relationship

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Ezra and Aria are adults and currently engaged. However, back when their relationship began, he was a grown-up English teacher, and she was under 18. He’s also in a position of power over her.

That’s predatory at best and statutory rape at worst. 

However, Ezria has become arguably the biggest ship on the show, and their relationship is treated as star-crossed lovers and romantic, not problematic as it really is, which in itself in problematic. 

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5. The Ezra and Alison relationship reveal

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5. The Ezra and Alison relationship reveal

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Ditto to everything about the Ezria relationship. It could be argued that Ali lied and Ezra thought she was in college, but really? This is a grown man. Sasha Pieterse, who plays Alison, was 14 when she started filming and we’re supposed to believe this relationship happened. At best we can hope he thought she was 18, but golly, even that’s a stretch.

Come on, Ezra, can you date someone who isn’t a teenager for once? 

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6. Alison’s “Beach Hottie” pregnancy scare

6. Alison’s “Beach Hottie” pregnancy scare

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This show has a problem with portraying statutory rape as just another relationship, as witnessed by the Beach Hottie-Alison relationship. It hasn’t completely been confirmed that Beach Hottie was Darren Wilden, but the stars off-camera have admitted the two are one and the same.

In Cape May, Alison had a pregnancy scare with Beach Hottie, and if it is grown-man Wilden, it could be statutory rape. In New Jersey the age of consent is 16; in Pennsylvania, it’s 18. 

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7. The origins of the Emily and Paige relationship

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7. The origins of the Emily and Paige relationship

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Never forget that Emily started dating a closeted Paige after Paige literally tried to drown her in the Rosewood High swimming pool. This crazy act of violence and rage is pretty much never mentioned again, and Paily becomes a major ship.

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8. The treatment of black, bisexual Maya

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8. The treatment of black, bisexual Maya

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What did Maya know?! Well, we might never know, but we do know that, at the beginning, the showrunners didn’t do their first bisexual character any favors in the stereotype department.

The black, bisexual character is immediately introduced under some problematic stereotypes as a drug user and a “bad girl,” which The Female Gaze so thoughtfully points out. 

Too bad we probably won’t see Maya again to make it right. 

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9. In general, the murder spree on characters of color

9. In general, the murder spree on characters of color

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This isn’t one storyline, but a problematic trend. There is little racial diversity in the main cast, and when characters of color are introduced, they are often met with deadly ends: Maya, Lyndon James, and Shana. Then there was Clark, who just vanished from the show with little to no explanation.

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10. Radley and the portrayal of mental health

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10. Radley and the portrayal of mental health

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What do Mona, Charlotte, and Mary Drake all have in common? At one point they were all villains, and at one point they were all in Radley.

Pretty Little Liars frequently associates mental illness with morality, with basically being evil. This is a damaging stereotype, and frankly, every PLL character could probably use a good dose of therapy and mental health help.

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11. Ezra’s “A” lair reveal

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11. Ezra’s “A” lair reveal

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OK, we have to get back to Ezra. Don’t forget: This grown man once built an entire creepy lair complete with surveillance equipment in order to write a true crime book and become famous after having a fling with an underage girl.

So much to unpack here.

While the N.A.T. club was rightfully denounced for being insanely creepy and even criminal, Ezra spied on underage girls and we’re still supposed to believe he’s one of the “good guys.”


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12. Ezra seducing Aria under false pretenses

12. Ezra seducing Aria under false pretenses

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Here’s the final totally problematic Ezra storyline: When he met the underage Aria at a bar, he knew she was underage, knew she was his student, and only kissed her to get information about Alison.

It’s hard to comprehend how gross this is. Now, of course, the two are engaged as if it wasn’t insanely predatory to lure a young woman into a romantic relationship under false pretenses. 

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13. Elliott treating Alison in Welby

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13. Elliott treating Alison in Welby

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Not all of us watching Pretty Little Liars are doctors, but all of us know that it is 100 percent not OK to be the only caregiver for your own wife’s mental illness.

OK, fine, this was just for TV purposes, but come on. It’s just another example of how the show misrepresents so fully what getting treatment for mental health is like. 

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14. Toby pretending to be dead to “help” Spencer

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14. Toby pretending to be dead to “help” Spencer

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First of all, Spencer has more brains and strength than Toby ever will. She did not need Toby to infiltrate Mona’s “A” crew to “save” her.

Second, this was emotional abuse. Toby legitimately pretended to be dead and sent Spencer to seek treatment at Radley. Then, afterward, his character was treated as some kind of hero. Um, no thanks. 


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15. Emily’s relationship rollercoaster

15. Emily’s relationship rollercoaster

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We loved Maya, then she was murdered and we never really figured out why? Then Em had Paige, which had its own problematic beginnings. Now, she’s with Alison, who emotionally abused her in high school.

If that sounds bad for the only main out LGBTQ character, look in between those relationships and it’s worse. It seems the showrunners just kept throwing her into relationships with whomever, while Hanna, Aria, and Spencer had their rabid OTP fandoms. 

Remember Talia? Samara? Sabrina? They weren’t exactly memorable, so we’d forgive you if not. Then there was the ill-advised fake Nate St. Germain path, and don’t even get us started on the Sara Harvey romance.

What’s worse though, is what Autostraddle points out about Season 6B (a very romance-focused season): Emily wasn’t in any romantic scenes. 

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Look, we love Pretty Little Liars. We get obsessed with our OTPs and we’re hunting down all the clues to figure out who “A” is. That being said, it takes a true Pretty Little Liars fan to admit when the show gets it wrong.

While we adore the show’s often-underrepresented look at positive female friendships, there have been issues Marlene and the rest of the showrunners have not handled with that kind of grace.

Click through the slideshow for the top 15 times the show veered into some problematic storylines.

Pretty Little Liars airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on Freeform.