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Nobody gives a good tease for a show like I. Marlene King and as the second season of the ABC Family hit "Pretty Little Liars" begins tonight the show's creator is the holder of all the secrets about so many of the addictive mysteries that has an audience enthralled. Who is "A?" Is Ian really dead? What's next for couples "Ezria" and "Spoby?" Who is "A" going after next? And, in a town where nobody can be trusted, can our four pretty little liars - Aria (played by Lucy Hale), Hanna (Ashley Benson), Emily (Shay Mitchell) and Spencer (Troian Bellisario) - risk everything by discussing their lives with a new therapist (Annabeth Gish)?
During their recent chat, King and our Jim Halterman talked not only about the broad strokes coming up in the new season's storylines but also what she and her team of writers learned from crafting season one, incorporating lighter moments into the dark series (based on the popular Sara Shepard's novels) and a jaw-dropping shocker coming later this summer.
Jim Halterman: Who is not watching your show? I feel like you have the teens, the moms, the dads, the gays...
I. Marlene King: I think we have a lot of closet dads and brothers watching. They won't admit but I hear all these stories about 'My dad pretends he's not interested but he's there every Monday night watching... ' I'm not a teen girl so I wasn't the target audience for the books - but I thought the mystery was so juicy and fun that it was a universal story. It really didn't feel to me like you had to be a teenager to enjoy this mystery and enjoy finding out who was 'A' and who killed Alison. So I felt if I could somehow translate that on an episodic basis we'd have a good chance to get an older and different demographic than just teen girls.
JH: And it's fun to see actors like Chad Lowe, Holly Marie Combs, Laura Leighton populate the show as the parents. But even they have their own mysteries!
IMK: It's really fun! As we go along in the show and it has more legs and spreads it's roots we're going to get to know those people even more. Of course, Laura Leighton's character had a great mystery and juicy stuff last season so we want to start giving more juicy stuff to the other parents, too.
JH: I love that in the new season the girls are now in therapy. Of course they need therapy! What will therapy do for them?
IMK: I love Annabeth! She does such a great job with that role. The therapist is someone you're going to see more than once this season and she's going to have a very big impact on how the girls view 'A' and then she's also going to be an extremely big threat to 'A.'
JH: Will we get to know that character or is it really more about that character influences the girls?
IMK: Her story is really tied into the girls and the girls' story but she's going to be pivotal... I would say in flushing out 'A.' Yes, I think I can say that.
JH: What was the broad stroke of season two?
IMK: I think the theme of season two, we decided early on, is that there is more to the story. It's exactly where we left at the end of season one with Ian dead hanging in the bell tower but when we come back in the first episode of season two there is more to that story. We've kind of stuck with that thematically with this whole season and in these summer episodes you'll see there's more to the story when it comes to each girl's character, the story of what happened to Alison and who is 'A.' The whole summer series is really focused on who killed Alison and then the second half of season two in the fall is more complicated about who is 'A' with the girls literally going after 'A' and trying to find 'A.'
JH: I like how you're very carefully saying these words and you're being very cautious as you explain this! So, what were some of the lessons you learned from season one in telling this story?
IMK: I'd say our first half of season one was lighter than the second half and it was really with our first half finale where I felt like we really sort of found this show and found that our audience loved the mystery. Of course they loved the girls and they loved the characters and the stories remain very relatable but I think we discovered that the whole guessing game, the mystery, the cleverness of 'A' and how 'A' can achieve all these things, is really intriguing to people and we really embraced that in the last twelve episodes. The show became a little darker in tone and that's where we're staying this season.
JH: Was that influenced by what you heard online from fans?
IMK: Absolutely! I think it was very much influenced by the Twitter chats and our Facebook fans. I know we have over three million fans on Facebook and they're brutally honest. It's almost all positive but it's also uber-positive and we know that people love to be scared and be on the edge of their seats.
JH: As close as the girls are now, are they going to be able to remain as close or will there be some cracks in the friendships?
IMK: I think there will be some bumps in the road - usually 'A'-driven - but for now I think we left them closer last season than they ever had been. 'A' is going to continue to try to keep them apart and their loyalty as friends is going to stay as strong as they expected.
JH: Let's talk about the storylines. First of all, where are we going with Ezria (Ezra and Aria)? There have been some challenges with that relationship due to the age difference but the reality on the show is that these two are in love.
IMK: This season, we're really grounding that relationship even more in reality in a sense that Ezra is going to leave Rosewood to teach at the college and they think that's going to make things easier but they can't get away from the history of teacher/student so that continues to haunt them. There's also some new people that come into their lives and end up becoming a threat to their relationship, as well. One of them realizes, 'Wow, it's so easy and natural this way and I have to work so hard the other way.' Ultimately, they have to decide if it's worth it.
JH: With Hanna having an outside friend in Mona (Janel Parrish), she seems a bit more one foot in/one foot out of the group. Am I reading that right?
IMK: She has Mona whereas the other girls don't have a Mona. She does have a life outside of the group because she has Mona. What I think is interesting in this season, though, is that Mona is going to end up oddly, in very weird ways, befriending each one of the PLLs so we're going to see a lot more of Mona this season.
JH: With Emily, so much of her story last year was about her coming out as a lesbian. What's next with her this season?
IMK: We have dealt with that and now it's sort of a given that she's dating girls but I will say that in the first 12 episodes 'A' decides to go after Emily in the way that 'A' went after Hanna last season. Emily is sort of the next target for 'A' and so it's less about her sexuality but about a new secret that Emily has. Emily is going to tell a lie that is going to keep her in Rosewood and 'A' finds out about that lie and that's something new to torture Emily with.
JH: The other big couple is Spoby - Spencer and Toby (Keegan Allen) - what's up with them in these new episodes?
IMK: The Hastings do not want Spencer to be with Toby, let alone date Toby. I will say that there is a twist in the story and suddenly the Hastings embrace Toby and for a little bit of time they are going to be accepted by the Hastings but not the Cavanaughs.
JH: When I watch the show, I end up suspecting everybody on the show of everything. Is that your intention or is that our own audience paranoia because we're so in the world.
IMK: I think it's a little of both. We very much try to keep all the characters suspicious and keep people guessing. I think there's no one in this town who doesn't have a secret. Some are more dangerous than others and there'd going to be some definite connections and answers to what happened the night Alison died that I think will be very surprising.
JH: As much as we love all the dark mystery of the show, are we still going to see some lighter moments? These girls are still teenagers so will there be a balancing out so it's not too dark?
IMK: I call it the schizophrenia of 'Pretty Little Liars.' In one minute the girls are talking about murder and death and destruction and the next minute it's 'What shade of lip gloss is that?' It's just the world these girls live in that they can bounce around like that. It's their lives. They're still going to date, have guy trouble and girl trouble and parent trouble and they still have to have fun so we'll continue to have all those balls in the air.
JH: Speaking of those balls, has it been a challenge to keep them all up in the air and service everybody in the cast?
IMK: It's a constant challenge because we do have so many great characters and we love to service all their stories equally and just maintain the balance of the fun and the danger of the show. I think that's what makes 'Pretty Little Liars' special because there are so many ingredients in this cake. It's crazy and chaotic to put together but at the same time it's so rewarding.
JH: So, can you give me a good tease for this new season that will drive the fans (and me) nuts?
IMK: By the middle of the summer, there's definitely going to be a funeral and at that funeral we are going to find out an extremely surprising detail about what happened the night Alison disappeared. In this episode, we kind of think we're putting something to bed but we realize we're in the wrong bed.
JH: Okay, now I have chills.
"Pretty Little Liars" airs Tuesdays at 8:00/7:00c on ABC Family.