Cruel Summer, Freeform’s newest teen drama, is a unique and twisted take on the typical high school trope of a nerdy girl who suddenly becomes beautiful and wildly popular.
If you’re a fan of Pretty Little Liars but crave a more complex storyline akin to Memento (did I just date myself?), then Cruel Summer may be right up your alley. Although the show doesn’t take massive leaps to reinvent the wheel of storytelling in terms of using a mixed timeline format, the overall structure of Cruel Summer is intriguing and leaves you wondering which characters you can actually trust.
Cruel Summer’s plot is laid out in a fairly linear manner (which is inherent given that the story is told over the course of three summers from 1993-1995), but there are enough details omitted in each scene that leave you wondering what important nuances you might be missing out on.
We first meet Jeanette Turner (played by Chiara Aurelia) on her 15th birthday in 1993— she’s your average quirky gal with braces, glasses, and messy hair. Then we see her again on her 16th birthday, only this time she’s much glossier with long straight hair and a cute boyfriend to boot. Finally, we meet 1995 Jeanette— an angry 17-year-old with chopped off hair and a father that’s yelling at her about a surprise visit from her lawyer. The question is, what caused this rapid succession of drastic transformations?
On Jeanette’s 15th birthday, we meet Kate Wallis (played by Disney’s Olivia Holt)— the most popular girl in school. She’s beautiful, she’s incredibly sweet, and she has a cute boyfriend to boot (sound familiar?). Kate was living the life in 1993 that Jeanette wakes up in 1994, but the circumstances that led them to switch places remain unclear throughout the entire episode. The only thing we know for sure is that Kate disappeared without a trace in the summer of 1993 and reappeared a year later, tormented by her experience of being held captive in a basement.
In all honesty, Cruel Summer is a corny and oftentimes clunky drama about teens, rigid high school hierarchies, and a little bit of kidnapping. The show’s premiere introduces a small cast of characters that are used to define the greater social dynamics of the high school Jeanette and Kate attend and these few people fail to convince me that there’s much stake in following the nerd/outcast/Queen Bee mode of social stratification. That said, this is Freeform and cheesy teen dramas are sort of their forte (did I mention the similarity to Pretty Little Liars?).
Overall, the show does capture your attention enough to easily forgive Cruel Summer’s little hiccups. While the show’s rushed pacing leads Jeanette’s character to feel more like an amalgamation of different stereotypes rather than a fully fledged protagonist, I expect that her depth will develop as the three timelines have more room to unfold over the course of the series.
New episodes of Cruel Summer are released on Freeform every Tuesday at 10/9 central and are added to Hulu the next day. What are you waiting for? Grab a comfy blanket, pour a big glass of whatever beverage suits your fancy, and binge the first three episodes now so you’re ready for next week’s installment!