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Obsessions: Yes, teen TV scares me

By Breeanna Hare, CNN
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Fri October 21, 2011
In
In "Pretty Little Liars" there's a fine balance between the soapier, sillier plots and the more frightening moments.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Some of the best pop culture just happens to come with a side of teen angst and issues
  • ABC Family's "Pretty Little Liars" inched up the creep factor throughout its two seasons
  • A Halloween-themed episode of the show offered some chills

(CNN) -- Out of all the frightening things on television, especially as we near Halloween, I'll admit it's the teen dramas that make me want to leave a light on.

Between the dead friends and the supernatural ones, shows I love like "Pretty Little Liars" and "The Secret Circle" have scenes suspenseful and chilling enough to make someone watch the action from behind a shielding hand.

And yes, that someone would be me. I'm a sucker for whodunit suspense, but I have a low tolerance for true horror, making slasher films, psychological thrillers, ghost stories and their ilk off-limits if I want uninterrupted sleep.

Knowing I can't hang with the big kids watching "True Blood" -- incredibly sad, but yes, also true -- surely I could handle a comparatively tame series. The CW's "The Secret Circle"? It sounded like nothing more than a lip-glossed, for-TV version of "The Craft."

Except while I was scoffing at the spotty acting and cheesy, after-school-special plot turns that dot all teen shows, two things happened: The first was that I became completely invested in the storylines, and two, I realized I wasn't giving the source material, show runners or actors enough credit.

It's easy to assume that because of the marketing, because of the network or because these shows -- including the CW's other hit, "The Vampire Diaries" -- are adapted from young adult novels, they'd be like candy to an adult. And for some, that may be true. But I'd argue that, just as adult fans of YA have been realizing over the past few years, some of the best pop culture just happens to come with a side of teen angst and issues.

Perhaps everyone's taking a page from author Maurice Sendak's book and refusing to "cater to the (BS) of innocence," as he told the Guardian this month.

So while the entire cast of "Circle" may look like they were pulled from the pages of a junior's clothing catalogue and one of the leads does bear the same tortured expression of a "Twilight" star, there was nothing sparkly about the fourth episode, "Heather."

The show, which is adapted from a fictional young adult series of the same name, centers on a group of teens who are the descendants of witches. As they uncover their powers, they run into a variety of threats, including of course, demons.

If you've watched a show centered on the supernatural before, including the classic "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," you've run into your fair share of demonic appearances. (Can we have a moment of silence for an OG of scary teen TV? More than a decade later, I still remember the voice-stealing "Gentlemen" of season 4's "Hush.")

But I had to tip my hat to actress Camille Sullivan, who portrayed the woman who'd been possessed in that particular "Secret Circle" episode, because she officially put "Heather" on "do not watch again" status. This probably means there are 13-year-olds with a greater constitution than me, and I'm OK with that.

While "The Secret Circle" hasn't been at all secretive about the dark turns the series will take, ABC Family's "Pretty Little Liars" inched up the creep factor throughout its two seasons.

Yet another adaptation from a beloved set of books, "Liars" offers you the eye-rolling idea of a high school student dating her English teacher with complete seriousness, but you'll also get a twisted storyline of a frenemy who may or may not be dead.

If you haven't seen the show, which has skyrocketed over the past year to become one of the most popular programs on TV, that's the central premise: A group of four "pretty" and prone to lying friends reconvene after the death of their fifth BFF, Alison. What draws them together in her absence are the intrusive, uncannily knowing text messages from someone (or perhaps more than one person) known as "A."

Ali's a complicated character, even when she's alive, played convincingly by Sasha Pieterse. But "Liars," part drama and part thriller, raises the stakes with all of the questions surrounding her death. Who killed Ali, and is she really dead? Because if she is, who's this creepy "A" that seems to know the secrets of the four main friends?

At first, the "Clue"-like guessing game was the main draw, but as season one turned into season two, "A" was revealed to be ruthless. This isn't just a bully, as one speech delivered during the second season tried to claim; this is a masked stalker, kidnapper and killer who has amazing access to just about everyone and everything.

If I asked for a show of hands of who was excited and yet sort of terrified to watch this week's Halloween episode, I know without seeing them that mine wouldn't be the only one raised.

That special edition didn't disappoint, what with an opening fright of twin-on-twin violence, a fake-out attack and a Halloween costume involving a baby mask that might haunt my dreams.

I can keep watching, though, because there is something that separates these shows from the rest of the chilling fare that's offered. The writers give me, and I suspect other scaredy-cats like me, a reprieve. There's a fine balance between the soapier, sillier plots -- it wouldn't be a teen drama without a love triangle or a fated love that seems to be doomed -- and the more frightening moments.

If you consider yourself a master of suspense, don't let the baby-faces on teen dramas fool you. If horror has taught us anything, it's the young ones you have to watch out for.

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