This show plays up the drama of teens' lives, making everything look much more exciting, sexy, beautiful, and mysterious than it is in real life. Bullying is central to the plot, as teens are stalked by an unknown person who coerces their actions with threats of revealing their secrets. Teens are sometimes portrayed as catty and clique-ish. Characters' loyalties shift, making it difficult to assess the nature of their intentions, and emotional betrayal is common among the characters. Naughty behavior like theft, extramarital affairs, and manipulation is common, though much of it has consequences for those involved. A high school teacher engages in a physical relationship with his student, which is treated as a love affair rather than sexual assault, sending problematic messages about consent. That said, there are some moments that underscore the strong relationships between the girls and within their families.
The story centers on the murder of a teen, and a few other violent acts follow. A girl's lifeless body is shown lying on the ground, and a man's corpse shows signs of his being shot in the head. The teens' lives are threatened and some characters disappear, but there's more suspense than violence in these cases. The relationship between the teen and her teacher would be considered sexual assault in the real world, though that's not how it's positioned in the show. In later seasons, a character is killed outright (though accidentally) and the death covered up, which becomes a source of drama. Later seasons are also a bit bloodier, with a (non-fatal) stabbing as the camera lingers on pooling blood.
Expect kissing and cuddling -- between both opposite- and same-sex couples -- and it's implied that a few have sex, though nothing is shown. Nudity is limited to the occasional guy walking around shirtless. A student and teacher carry on a romantic relationship, despite her parents' rules against it. Teen girls often wear skimpy clothing or revealing bikinis and talk about being "sexy." The older characters in later seasons have often settled into stable relationships, including same-sex ones.
Intermittent use of "damn," "bitch," "hell," and "ass." Women call each other "bitch" semi-playfully: "Wake up, bitch."
The show is based on a book series of the same name by Sara Shepard.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Occasional teen drinking and drug use, including teen girls smoking pot. Often there's a repercussion to the behavior, though, as when a girl gets sick and vomits on a wedding dress. After a time jump in later seasons, the now twentysomething main cast often drinks, generally at dinner or at parties.