Spinoffs are hard to get right, and at first a Pretty Little Liars spinoff about just two of the Liars randomly reconvening in the fictional town of Beacon Heights, Oregon, far away from Rosewood and their shared life of teenage crime sounds like it could go terribly wrong — especially without Sparia or Haleb around to save the day. But it turns out that capturing the overall vibe of the original series while also creating something fresh for newcomers is totally possible, and it's achieved almost solely through Mona and Alison's friendship in The Perfectionists. Their dynamic here is on point for when, where, and how the new series develops that even the most skeptical spinoff haters (and diehard PLL fans who'd have trouble buying a Mona and Ali pairing) will be drawn right back into the universe.
It's clear right away that things are going to be different in a good way when the series opens on a dark and stormy night with Alison (Sasha Pieterse) arriving at her empty, new home near the university where she's just been hired to teach. Just when you get that foreboding feeling and yell at her to stop exploring the new house in the dark, Mona (Janel Parrish) pops up on the screen with a knife in her hand, in a perfectly executed jump scare delivered by showrunner I. Marlene King. Alas, there is no one lurking in the shadows in a black hoodie. Mona simply brought pie, and she's only there in her capacity as the current head recruiter for the university, to welcome her long-lost frenemy to town and give her the scoop about her new gig. And she really is this time around, it's not just a lie so that she can poison her, or something.
While catching up on what they've been doing since finding out Spencer had an evil twin (Emily and Alison's kids are fine, by the way), both women treat the other like someone who drives them nuts, but whom they'd also bury a body for. And it works because as we all know... these chicks have buried a lot of bodies, both literally and figuratively. I mean, Mona once mistakenly killed the wrong person when she was trying to murder Alison, the same Alison she's currently, offering a slice of warm pie to. All of their troublesome shared history is forgiven — but definitely not forgotten, importantly — in the world of The Perfectionists, and it is delightful to watch it unfold. You didn't even realize you missed these characters so much until they start lovingly snarking at each other.
Both Parrish and Pieterse gushed to Bustle at a set visit last year about how ready they were to see fans react to this new relationship borne of yet another crime. After a popular kid on campus is found dead — or murdered — the two enmesh themselves with a clique of the victim's friends because they are experts in murder, secrets, and lies, after all. Parrish can hardly contain her glee at the absurd and dark premise, channeling her character just a smidge. "Mona and Alison are just trying to live their best Beacon Heights life, they can finally be friends and then — bam! A death," she says, clapping her hands.
"Alison sees the Perfectionists as sort of her foster puppies. I think Mona is at first like, ‘OK, Alison, you go play with your little puppies’ and as the mystery unfolds and the stakes get higher, Alison comes to Mona for help, naturally," she explains. That level of respect for each other is new, and it's about time. "I think Mona, who has always been a little bit of a loner but yearned to be part of a group, sees an opportunity for her to open up a little bit more to people," Parrish continues. "It’s going to be a struggle for her because you know, she’s Mona, and she’s used to being a lone wolf. But it’s interesting to see her figure out how to approach having personal relationships with people." Especially Alison.
Pieterse agrees that the new, sisterly energy was what interested her in the show, especially because she knew the chemistry was there. "I mean, Janel and I get along so well off-camera, she’s a very close friend of mine. So it’s fun for us to have these kinds of scenes together where we’re not yelling at each other or in our old type of dynamic," Pieterse says. "That’s a brand new development that shocks Alison, and she’s not sure how to take it and she’s not sure if she can trust her. And slowly but surely, this new kind of friendship develops."
Pieterse likes how the two character have evolved, but especially Mona. "I think the fans are definitely going to like it because it’s a new side to Mona that they’ve never seen. It’s sweet," she says. It's also real (or as real as things can be in this universe). "I love that it’s not just like, all of a sudden, everything’s OK between them, there’s still that glimpse into the past and their history," she adds.
If you still need proof that life can and should go on after Rosewood, the actors' new co-star Sydney Park is a self-proclaimed "HUGE" fan of both the PLL books and series, and is still loving getting to watch her faves evolve on this new set. "I’m excited for people to see how Mona and Ali have a bond. They aren’t besties, but they tolerate each other, and they have history, and I think these girls have really grown up a lot and they’re coming together, finding common ground, but they get caught up in the same thing," she says.
Because if you can't escape your murder-laden past, you should at least be able to enjoy a slice of pie with an old nemesis. It's obviously easier to do now that they're not the ones keeping secrets or digging impromptu graves anymore — they'll just tutor the others on how to do all that.