Is it possible to stumble upon a mysterious curse that could lead to certain death for everyone involved? What other secrets can you uncover from your past that won't require worrying about your own safety? That's part of the premise behind ABC Family's spin-off series "Ravenswood", which followed one character from "Pretty Little Liars" and his quest for the truth. Despite a promising premise, the show feels rushed and the casting wasn't entirely spot on in terms of choosing the right characters to anchor the show.
"Ravenswood" followed Caleb Rivers (Tyler Blackburn) who came to Ravenswood to help his girlfriend Hanna Marin (Ashley Benson) find out answers to who has been tormenting them for years. Instead, he found his name and a picture of someone who looked exactly like him on an old gravestone. Caleb decided to stay in town to find answers, but he also stayed at Hanna's request to keep an eye on a new friend named Miranda Collins (Nicole Gale Anderson) who was searching for her mysterious uncle Raymond (Steven Cabral). Miranda's uncle ran a funeral home and he wasn't too eager to bond with his niece for reasons know only to him for the time being. While in town, Caleb came across two siblings named Luke (Brett Dier) and Olivia Matheson (Merritt Patterson) who were having a hard time dealing with the fact that their mother could have murdered their father. Due to all of the rumors, the town managed to turn Luke and Olivia into social outcasts with all of the unanswered questions. Both Luke and Olivia managed to cope with their grief in different ways. Luke chose to inflict his pain on anyone who crossed him, while also withdrawing from a town that didn't trust him anymore. Olivia took a different path in which she wanted things to remain the same, but that wasn't going to happen anytime soon. Luke's girlfriend Remy Beaumont (Britne Oldford) was eager to reconnect with Luke, but her father wasn't going to allow it when he believed that Luke lied to protect his mother from a murder charge. What happens when Miranda and Caleb get closer to the truth? Will they die trying or find the answers that they're looking for?
In terms of questions, "Ravenswood" posed quite a few big ones, but the biggest one was whether the show could truly make it on its own without the help of "Pretty Little Liars" to support it. After the series premiere, it still remained to be seen because not all of the plots proved to be worth watching. Although Blackburn proved to a dynamic supporting character on his original show, he wasn't necessarily the right choice to anchor a spin-off series. Sure, Blackburn's Caleb proved to be the most accessible of any of the characters because his only tie to the show was Benson's Hanna. Hopefully, the show will manage to better incoporate Blackburn in his new leading man role, but the writers would be equally wise to make the series more of a ensemble piece that allow each cast member to shine equally without putting too much attention on any one character. The series premiere also felt a bit rushed, even though viewers should be familiar with the town of Ravenswood to some extent because it had been featured in multiple episodes of "Pretty Little Liars," but the other cast members themselves weren't featured until the premiere which gave viewers little time to adjust to them. The idea of a spin-off should have worked on a lot slower as a way to get viewers comfortable with the idea before launching headlong into what could be an uncertain premise that involved a lot of supernatural elements and a deadly curse that killed five people at a time. Let's hope that this story dictated curse will help to eliminate some of the weaker characters when the time comes to trim some of more disappointing plot points, such as Anderson's Miranda finding her uncle. The story was weak at best and seemed to be disconnected from the overall show in a way. The show either needed to find a better way to connect Anderson's story to the rest of the show, or cut their losses before it's too late.
As for breakout performances, Dier and Oldford led the pack as two star crossed lovers who were forced to be apart due to tragic circumstances. Dier's Luke was designed to be a modern day James Dean type who was full of anger for reasons he didn't even know about. His most memorable scene came toward the end of the premiere when he quietly reflected to Patterson's Olivia that their mother could be guilty of killing their father. Dier's eyes displayed a quiet sadness as he slowly came to the realization that he may have made a mistake in protecting his mother. Fingers crossed that he'll get more of an opportunity to explore Luke's very complicated psyche for better or worse. Oldford, on the other hand, managed to make her somewhat quirky Remy likable even when she was keeping way too many secrets. Oldford embodied Remy with the right amount of humor and sadness as she struggled with maintaining her identity in a town full of secrets and darker motives. She also seemed to come out relatively unscathed from a disappointing storyline that involved her battle torn military mother who suffered through one too many bouts of survivor's guilt after her last tour of duty. Remy's individual story had some promising, but the character's parents felt more like window dressing than actual characters. Future episodes should help to flesh out the skeletons in Beaumont family closet sooner rather than later. Luckily, Dier and Oldford had a believable chemistry that made viewers want to root for them no matter how limited their background was to viewers. A few flashback scenes and the occasional secret meeting could help to seal the deal with viewers before they change the channel for good.
"Ravenswood" premiered on October 22rd and airs Tuesdays at 8:00 pm on ABC Family.
Verdict: The show demonstrated some early potential in the premiere, but it's too early to tell whether or not it could stand on its own from "Pretty Little Liars."
TV Score: 2 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)