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Laurel Mercer

So I just binge-watched the first thirty episodes of ABC Family’s The Lying Game and must now crown myself as the master of their fictional universe (limited only to the TV series because, c’mon, who really reads anymore?). I know all the secrets. I get all the twists. I’ve grasped all the backstory. And I’ve climbed and explored each and every branch of the tangled family trees from Phoenix to Scottsdale, Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Allow me to breakdown some of the show’s various intricacies to you novice TLG-viewers, die hard fan, and casual viewers both intentional and accidental — I get it, you lost your remote at some point during Pretty Little Liars. No shame. Just jump in.

First things first. Laurel is wonderful. In a tournament bracket of best TLG-ers (Mercer Madness?), she would be a top seed if not for it making so much more sense to have her as an underdog and watch her sass and flirt and snark her way into the championship game. While it’s clear, often too clear, that the Mercer clan fails to appreciate Laurel and the full extent of her unabashedly adorable ways, she is indispensable to maintaining the dramatic tension of a sort of ludicrous plot-line, as well as keeping the seriousness in check when necessary. She dispenses the best hugs. Calls people out when it’s most needed. And is unrelentingly a teenage girl no matter what, even while the world around her strains to be grown-up. But even the showrunners took some time to understand Laurel’s value.

Remember Char? Sutton and Mads’s friend? The blonde one with Mommy issues who dated that shady dude? Of course you don’t. Our Laurel would eventually steal her crush (Justin), her shine (Mommy and Daddy issues, even shadier boyfriend), and her function in the story. Before you know it, it’s Sutton(s), Mads, and Laurel out having adventures, having sleepovers, picking up guy, and, in turn, fighting over said guys. Laurel does it all while playing a fucking fiddle. Adorbz. Like I said, Laurel = MVP.

Next up. Charisma Carpenter, as the maybe mother of Sutton and Emma, is unsettling . . . in a good way. She’s creepy and manipulative and presumably plays the game as well as anyone possibly could, being that she isn’t dead or in prison by episode thirty (season two, episode ten). But what is the game? Is she crazy, a murderer, or a crazy murderer? Is she even Sutton and Emma’s biological mother? The striking resemblance between her and her offspring would be much more convincing if there wasn’t the slim chance that Alexandra Chando (Emma and Sutton) isn’t a real person and The Parent Trap camera magic is being all over the place. Someone check if Alexandra is an anagram of Charisma, please. Either way, at this point in the series, Rebecca clearly has a lot more up her sleeve. In fact, we have only just gotten to see that she’s wearing some pretty big-ass sleeves.

And then there are the fathers. Being a dad and not a jerk is almost impossible in The Lying Game. I like to call it “fathering under the influence of privilege.” (I’ve never actually called it that until just now.) There seems to be this extremely immature notion, which Ted and Alec share, that immoral, malicious mistakes of the past can be easily corrected by flexing money and power and committing more immoral and malicious mistakes in the present. Then comedy ensues.

The crux of The Lying Game, the search for “real” parents or, more essentially, the truth, reveals a lot about how ABC Family, author/creator Sara Shepard, and many others perceive the idyllic family and its members. Something about being all white or fringe white (“Whitehorse,” really? Not the name but the delivery) and luckily affluent. Absentee, adulterous, or asshole dads. Take your pick. But unsurprisingly for a series targeted at young women, the dynamic between mothers and daughters and sisters and girlfriends plays a large, perhaps the largest, part of the familial makeup of the show. The portrayal is diverse; albeit sometimes more of a rogue gallery of scorned, naive, boy-crazy, devious, victimized girls of all ages. Still, as long as you aren’t ostensibly a minority, poor, male, or, I guess, homosexual, it’s hard to imagine not readily finding a kindred spirit, a true or “real” version of yourself as you watch.

And I suppose that’s the most compelling part. Just as easily as one twin can become the other, viewers are offered a world of intrigue within homogeneity, sameness. By no means is this the first or last show to use whitewashed privilege as a canvas for storytelling. Standard fare throughout the networks and cable. But the attractiveness of “girl power” alongside “we’re all alike” isn’t something to be take lightly. If you aren’t as nice as Emma or charismatic as Sutton or as simply amaz-balls as Laurel, The Lying Game makes it a little easier to pretend to be, whether that’s a good thing or not.

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