Continuity Errors in 'Pretty Little Liars' (Spoilers)
Why Reviewing the Previously Aired Material Matters
Okay, this is my third story about this show. That may be because I'm re-watching the show for the gazillionth time. Don't worry. Despite all of my criticisms, I do love it. If you don't care to listen to my summary, go ahead and skip to the end for my personal recommendations for a better screenplay.
One of the things I have noticed in this show is the numerous continuity errors. And once you notice, suddenly it's a lot harder to suspend disbelief. Things like multiple seasons occurring in the span of a few months and events not happening at the time that a character said they did really messes with your head.
The first two seasons are fairly reasonable. Both happen over one school year, with the first season happening during the first semester and season two during the second semester. Sure, a lot happens to the girls, but it's reasonable that it could happen in one school year. There are not too many fixed dates either, so things aren't horribly complicated.
It's the third season that really changes things up.
The third season starts on August 31. The girls are having a sleepover, things get weird, and a grave is dug up. They clearly state that the following day is September 1, giving us a frame of reference. The next solid date that we have is Halloween, and quite a bit happens during those two months. Between an accused killer being exonerated by new evidence and several break-ups and make-ups, it seems a bit odd that the girls would have so many school days between those two dates. After all, going to school for five days a week times for roughly four weeks is twenty school days in that time period, and I'm not counting professional days. Putting that aside, I can let it slide—for now.
After Halloween, we have the next date of November 5. In all fairness, this isn't 100 percent fixed, but given context clues from the previous seasons, we can assume that this is the correct day. That means, in the span of five days, the girls attend what appears to be a month's worth of classes. So, this date is what one can reasonably assume is the date of Spencer and Toby's anniversary. This is the day that Spencer starts her breakdown after finding out that Toby is one of the people who is torturing them.
Now, this is where things get tricky. We have no more fixed dates until the middle of season 5, and that's a problem. See, that fixed date is Thanksgiving, which is typically the fourth Thursday of November. Starting to see the issue here? In the span of three weeks, we have two seasons and a lot of drama. Those three weeks include Spencer's hospitalization, a huge fire that almost kills the girls, a detective getting murdered, Hannah's mom's arrest for that murder and her release, Hannah and Caleb's breakup, Hannah and Travis' relationship, Alison's return, Toby's house catching on fire, Toby becoming a police officer, Spencer's arrest, etc. Thanksgiving is when Mona is "murdered," and all hell breaks loose.
This is the most blatant disregard for a consistent timeline I have ever seen. And it doesn't stop there.
Charlotte (CeCe) is born in 1986. That much we know based on context clues. Now, she claims to have been 12-years-old when Toby's mother died, but that doesn't add up with previously stated dates. We know from Toby that his mother died on October 24, 2007. There is no way that Charlotte was 12-years-old on this day, yet she claims the opposite. It's frustrating enough that fans have concocted their own theories of why she would say something so outrageous, most of which include her covering for someone.
My point is that screenwriters need to pay attention to their own canon. They can't screw up an established timeline for the sake of drama. Gossip Girl dealt with this in an honorable way: Each season was its own school year. It's distracting when a timeline doesn't make sense. It's hard to watch a show and not understand when things are happening.
Write your dialog to fit with what you've already created. Watch your own show and take notes before writing any new episodes. Or even take notes when you write a new episode and keep that journal by your desk every day. More importantly, read your notes. Keep a computer program to keep track of dates and relationships. If any fan on the internet can do it, so can you.
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