It wouldn’t be honest to pretend “The Lying Game” does anything to advance or deviate from ABC Family’s trusty teen soap playbook. Taking its cues from the cabler’s sudsy mystery success “Pretty Little Liars” (both shows are based on books by Young Adult author Sara Shepard), “Lying’s” premise of rich girl-poor girl twins who swap lives to escape their secrets has eerie parallels with the CW’s higher-profile upcoming series “Ringer.” But “Lying” has a full month to hook viewers before “Ringer” bows, leaving more immediate competition to come from anxiety over the start of a new school year.
While the series doesn’t feature a noble-minded hook like summer hit “Switched at Birth,” for example, which features deaf actors in prominent roles, it nevertheless fits snugly into a lineup pitched squarely at a young female demo. Alexandra Chando (“As the World Turns”) does double duty as plucky foster kid Emma Becker and glamorous identical twin Sutton Mercer, who live vastly different lives in separate cities, but are already scheming together via Skype when the show opens. Without letting anyone in on their secret, the girls formulate a plan to track down their birth parents — Sutton heads to Los Angeles to play chief detective, while Emma takes her place in Arizona’s lap of luxury so no one’s the wiser.
The pilot episode subsequently tracks Emma adjusting to her new family, as mom (Helen Slater), dad (Andy Buckley) and a hostile little sister (Allie Gonino) show various levels of suspicion about Sutton’s sudden change in behavior, if not appearance. Then there’s the drama of Sutton’s active high-school social life, including the key members of her “Mean Girls”-esque clique (Kirsten Prout, Alice Greczyn), her arch-rival (Sharon Pierre-Louis) and dueling love interests (only one of whom, a brooding mystery man played by “Switched at Birth’s” Blair Redford, is a full-fledged regular).
It’s a lot for one girl to deal with, but viewers will navigate the familiar waters just fine. The intent doesn’t appear to be to challenge audiences with convoluted mystery, but instead leave them curious about the twins’ background, and even more intrigued to discover what happens next in the various relationships.
Although Chando has some fun with the mild variations in her dual role, “Lying Game” is the kind of series where actors are judged by their dreaminess, and actresses by their relatability (or, in some cases, hate-ability), which is best for all involved. As the only adults in the cast, Buckley (a recurring suit on “The Office”) and Slater (the erstwhile “Supergirl”) register as afterthoughts, at least for now. Former “Heroes” co-star Adrian Pasdar begins a major recurring role in episode two.
Executive producers boast credits ranging from “Desperate Housewives” to “Gossip Girl” to ABC Family’s “The Nine Lives of Chloe King,” suggesting they know this territory well. And if the target audience can endure tortured dialogue like, “A lie’s a lie, but if the reasons are reasonable, then maybe you can forgive the lie,” then, truth be told, “Lying” might stay in the game for awhile.