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I cannot tell a lie...

The older one grows, the more watching television becomes an exercise in anthropology, especially if you're writing about what you watch. You're obliged to look at things that aren't designed to appeal to whatever demographic grouping some marketing tool in a suit has decided you belong in.

The range of channels available is now so wide, and the way we watch television has evolved in so many different directions (DVD boxsets, online catch-up, digital downloads), that it's incumbent upon the likes of me to watch things I would never normally dream of watching. Otherwise, what's the point of doing it?

So a few weeks ago I reviewed Teen Wolf, which is most definitely not aimed at me, and ended up thinking it wasn't too bad. Maybe that's because it takes a few cues from the smart, tongue-in-cheek 1980s horror movies, like Fright Night, The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, I enjoyed in my 20s, and still enjoy now that they're part of the archaeological museum that mostly makes up my DVD collection.

Last night I tried MTV's Pretty Little Liars, which in the parlance of youth is soooo not for me. I can't argue with that. The trouble is, I can't quite figure out who Pretty Little Liars is supposed to be for.

Certainly not my 15-year-old daughter, a fan of Gossip Girl, Misfits and The Mighty Boosh, who watched it a couple of times and thought it was dreadful. I'm with her on that one.

It's based on a series of young adult novels about four high-school girls whose clique falls apart when their bitchy and manipulative "queen bee" disappears, later turning up murdered. The girls start receiving sinister text messages from the mysterious "A", who claims to know all their dirty little secrets.

The plot of Pretty Little Liars, which was marketed as "Desperate Housewives for teenagers" (and you can see the similarities), is less important than the strange, sealed, artificial environment it unfolds in. This is a world of money, privilege, flash cars, flash clothes, mansion-like houses, perfect green lawns and impossibly well-groomed, identikit-bland characters (the boys are even prettier than the Pretty Little Liars).

Mostly, though, it's a faintly sinister world of perpetual, idealised youth. Nobody in the neighbourhood seems to be over 30 (the actor playing the investigating detective, who may also be a bad guy, could pass for 15 in the right light), the parents look younger than their kids, and the fathers appear to have spent more time in front of the make-up mirror than their wives or daughters.

There's not a wrinkle or a grey hair to be seen, even among the background extras, and there's also a noticeable shortage of black faces -- although a token black, uniformed cop did turn up for a minute or two.

But the most striking thing about Pretty Little Liars is how extraordinarily dull it is. The girls spend lots of time standing around whispering to one another and staring at their mobile phone screens. It's like watching a coven of witches dressed by Hollywood's top designer stores.

The acting is largely dreadful, too. The four stars make post-Friends Jennifer Aniston seem like Meryl Streep, as their perfectly-shaped little eyebrows furiously work overtime to convey a range of emotions that the rest of their faces seem incapable of rising to. If this is the future of teen television, I think I'm content to be an old(ish) fart.

Briefly, what the hell has gone wrong with Torchwood: Miracle Day? We're six weeks into it with four more instalments to go, yet there's no obvious villain in sight and last night's episode didn't move the plot along one inch.

John Barrowman's Captain Jack Harkness has been sidelined in favour of showcasing Eve Myles's Gwen as some kind of nascent, kick-ass action heroine.

It's simply not working and fears that a 10-part run (creator Russell T Davies apparently wanted 13 episodes) might be a strain are beginning to look on the money.



PRETTY LITTLE LIARS HIIII TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY (BBC1) HHIII


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