Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa knows a teen drama. The creator has turned his pen and perspective to some of the biggest teen series of the past two decades: Glee, Riverdale, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and now, the Pretty Little Liars spinoff Original Sin.
Alongside co-creator Lindsay Calhoon Bring, the writer and showrunner approached the new series with a love for horror and fandom itself, tying together threads of the original show with the classics from the horror genre. Original Sin is campy and intricate, already garnering praise for its cast of young actresses and compelling narrative. Aguirre-Sacasa and Calhoon Bring have talked about how the respect they have for the original, and their interested in adding, not taking away. As Aguirre-Sacasa put it in Teen Vogue’s July/August cover story, “I don’t think there would’ve been a Riverdale if there hadn’t been an original PLL.”
Teen Vogue talked to Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa before the Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin premiere about slasher movies, intense scenes from Original Sin, and what’s to come in the last season of Riverdale. Big spoilers for episode five of PLLOS ahead.
Teen Vogue: How did it feel to step away from the Archie universe a little bit for Original Sin?
RAS: Listen, obviously I love the Archie universe, but I love horror. I’ve loved horror since I was a kid, and I’ve loved slasher movies since as long as I can remember. The show does feel different from the Archie verse shows, weirdly it feels more grounded, the pacing is a little less bonkers and it does feel a bit more realistic and grounded, but I love the horror vibe of it. So it felt like I was just going somewhere adjacent, as opposed to on the other side of the planet.
TV: I talked to Lindsay Calhoon Bring, and she was saying how you both came to this project while you were working on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina together. What drew you to this story? What did you like about the original Pretty Little Liars?
RAS: When I was first approached [by Warner Bros.] about this, of course I knew about the PLL phenomenon and had many friends who had seen it. I’d seen it kind of casually. I hadn’t seen it religiously. So I went back and I read the original book, and then I started with season one. And I think the big thing that stood out to me was one, sort of the intricate water cooler plotting of the show. Every episode ended with a huge cliffhanger. But I think two, it was the friendship of the girls. And I thought that cast was so winning, all of them. That’s what drew me in. And then the idea of not just trying to sort of do a do-over with those characters, but create new characters in [that] universe.
TV: Talking about how much of a horror fan you are and how much of a horror fan Lindsay is, what was your big picture thought about what the show would be like as a slasher?
RAS: On Sabrina, there was tons of horror elements and horror tropes in it. But the one thing we hadn’t really done… Riverdale had flirted with the horror genre, we’d done serial killers and things like that on Riverdale, but we didn’t really do a sustained version of a slasher horror, an homage to horror. The idea of taking this property, which was more mystery-based, and pushing it into slasher territory and being in dialogue, not just with the original Pretty Little Liars, but with those classic early slashers, like Friday the 13th and Halloween and Psycho and Nightmare on Elm Street. That was the big conceit, and making the Pretty Little Liars all heroes of their stories, all of them final girls, who survived and triumphed was the big motivating idea behind the reboot.
TV: I talked to Chandler Kinney, who mentioned that Tabby is sort of an avatar for the writer’s room. Lindsay said that you guys had both worked in movie theaters. How much of yourself is in this?
RAS: Yeah, Lindsay and I both worked at local movie theaters. We both grew up loving movies and horror stories and horror movies and horror shows. When we talk about Tabby, we describe her as a new version of Dawson from Dawson’s Creek and how Dawson related to the world through his love of Steven Spielberg movies. We loved that Tabby would really know the genre and frame a lot of her experiences in relation to the horror genre, not necessarily in a super meta way, like in Scream — though we love Scream and obviously Scream is a huge influence as well. Obviously in Scream, all the teens are really aware of horror movies and horror movie genres. But [with Tabby] as someone who has studied the genre, knows its conventions, knows its problematic history in terms of the male gaze and violence against women. Someone who looked at it critically, but still wore it as an armor.
TV: Like in episode four where Tabby is filming the movie for her class, and she’s upset when she doesn’t get the chance to really show her gaze in this rework of Pyscho. What was it like getting to show that update to the genre?
RAS: That episode, we talked about how it was the biggest friend betrayal Chip could have done in that moment, unknowingly, because he’s not as aware of Tabby’s experience and kind of doesn’t realize what a slight it is that Tabby does all the prep work, Tabby has this vision, and it’s important to Tabby to kind of reframe this narrative. In the moment, because Chip is not a young woman, because Chip doesn’t have the frame of reference that Tabby has, he makes a split second decision that to him is not a big deal, but to Tabby is kind of everything. It shows the differences between them. We talked a lot about that in the writer’s room. We didn’t want Chip to be a thoughtless, villainous asshole, but we did want to show that he has a very different way of moving through the world from Tabby. It takes him a minute to understand what he did, and he does try to make amends, but we felt like that captured a lot of their dynamic.
TV: I wanted to ask specifically about the scene in episode five, where Tabby and Faran are fighting with Tyler, Greg, and the boys and calling attention to the ways they’re being racist and cruel. How did you craft that scene? How much were you talking with Chandler and Zaria about it?
RAS: We talked a lot with Zaria and Chandler about that. Obviously it’s a storyline that started percolating early in the season. Tyler and Greg, especially Tyler, are sort of these avatars of toxicity and privilege. Earlier we establish that Tyler is the guy who is goading Karen, who’s drunk, and taking advantage of her. We also overhear him in the bathroom talking about the female students of Millwood High and taking advantage of them.
TV: And then at the end of the episode, we see his death.