Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday Talkback: Pretty Little Liars, Psycho, and damn kids today with no sense of film history

I've mentioned before that my wife is a regular viewer of most of the ABC Family slate, so it probably won't come as a surprise to learn she was eagerly anticipating last night's Pretty Little Liars finale, which promised to reveal the identity of the mysterious "A."  I've been exposed to enough of the show that I'm at least aware of most of the players, though I've missed just about every episode in this half-season.  But this isn't post about who A is.

No, this is about the numerous Psycho allusions and references scattered throughout the episode, including but possibly not limited to:

- a visit to a motel that bears a not-inconsiderable resemblance to the Bates Motel. (It might very well have been the facade from the Universal backlot.
- a creepy motel owner with a style akin to Anthony Perkins' Norman Bates.
- stuffed birds mounted in the motel office, plus a later reference to Faux-Bates being all alone with his stuffed creatures.
- blonde character takes a shower, with a number of homage angles, most notably a shadow seen through the shower curtain.
- a closing scene stolen right out of the film, with a psych patient's condition being explained while several characters watch this individual through a two-way mirror.  Said character is wrapped in a blanket as Bates was at the conclusion of the film, and has an internal monologue played while the camera focuses on their face.  And again, many homage camera angles here.

Me being the film nerd I am, I was on the lookout for Psycho callbacks from the moment the motel showed up.  As they piled up, I couldn't help but wonder how many of the tween target audience got all the references to a film more than 50 years old.  And then THAT made me curious as to if the writers wrote this expecting their viewers would get the joke and applaud them for being clever - or if they had no expectation that the references would be spotted.  (Given the preponderance of references, I'm going with the theory they didn't expect the homage to be invisible.)

I couldn't help but picture some devoted PLL tween viewer being completely oblivious to all the nods.  And that's not a "Damn kids today! Get off my lawn!" judgement.  The film was released in 1960 and it's not exactly an all-ages classic on the order of Psycho.  (Though it would be a real shame of those teens lived their entire lives ignorant of a classic that has to be one of Hitchcock's best.)

I've been in that situation before.  When I was in about 4th or 5th grade, I was a regular viewer of Tiny Toons Adventures.  One episode was called "Sepulveda Blvd" and it cast Montana Max in the role of a struggling writer who ends up being taken in by Elmyra Desmond - a has-been actress who wants Max to write her comeback vehicle.

Sound familiar?  It's the plot of Sunset Blvd.  At the age of 10, that fact escaped me - but when I was 19 and had to attend a screening of the Billy Wilder classic for film class... we'll lets just say I had a lot of "there's something familiar about this" moments.

So has that ever happened to you?  Ever seen an homage before you saw the original and not figure it out until long after the fact?

And if you want to see the Tiny Toons Homage, you can find it here.


  1. The show Psych is always referencing (and sometimes I guess paying homage to) something from the 80s. A tv show, a popular song, etc. Because I did have cable as a kid and listened to older music much of their references. Case in point, I never heard the song Never Gonna Give You Up until Barry Manilow sang it. So never got the Rick Astley references in their Friday The 13th homage.

    Doesn't lessen my enjoyment of the show though sometimes I sit there thinking "Huh?"

  2. I'm pretty sure the PLL Writers are fans of Hitchcock. The season finale last year had nods to Vertigo.

  3. Tiny Toons Adventures must have done this a lot, because they also had an episode called "Citizen Max", which was a take off on "Citizen Kane". I believe instead of "Rosebud", the famous last word was "Acme". Didn't get it at the time, but still thought it was hilarious. By some sort of magic, sometimes if jokes are really funny to the writer, they will seem funny to the viewer, even f they don't fully comprehend why. When I was a tour guide for a summer, my fellow guides and I thought it was hilarious to make up names for each other when meeting the customers. The customers didn't know the names were wrong, but those tours somehow were always the most fun and silly tours, just with that little change that the customers knew nothing about.

    1. Ha! I remember that one too! And as I recall the revelation at the end was that he didn't say "Ac-ME," he said "Ac-NE," as in "pimples."

      But the most bizarre in-joke/reference would probably be the Deliverance riff in the "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" direct-to-video movie.

  4. I am a Pretty Little Liars fan, more of the books but I do tune in to the show every Monday night. When They first showed motel I immediately told my friend this reminds me of the movie Psycho, only to get a response of "I've never seen it." As soon as the girls walked in and I saw the guy, and the taxidermy I freaked out. Then there was a comment on "Room number 1" and I was throwing a fit. I was quite furious that they were using Psycho as their finale for a couple of reasons. It was not at all the same as the book and I knew that more than half of the people watching had no idea, and thought it was some original thing. I'm 18 years old. And unfortunately the only reason I knew it was from Psycho was because I had Film Literature a month ago, and we had watched the movie. But I feel as though maybe writers should choose carefully what they have references too, because though there are adults who most likely have seen Psycho that watch the show, the majority of its viewers are teens who probably never even heard of it.

    Though I can't wait for kids who have film lit now who've watched Pretty Little Liars and then watch Psycho and make the connection.