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Home TV Shows Reviews ‘Cruel Summer’ Series Review: Charged With Energy and Wrapped in Mystery

‘Cruel Summer’ Series Review: Charged With Energy and Wrapped in Mystery

The new freeform drama Cruel Summer has a unique storytelling method, going back and forth between the same calendar point in three different years (Review for first 3 episodes)

Ritika Kispotta - Tue, 04 May 2021 13:49:26 +0100 491 Views
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“Cruel Summer”, created by Bert V. Royal (Easy A), has Jessica Biel among its executive producers. It takes place over three years, all on the same June day in 1993, 1994, and 1995. Jeanette Turner (Chiara Aurelia) starts as a happy, if shy and awkward, teenager celebrating her 15th birthday. While on a trip to the mall, she runs into the town’s popular girl, Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt). From their first meeting, it’s apparent that Jeanette wants, more than anything, to be popular and accepted by Kate but, as the series goes on, the machinations of their small Texas town keep up social barriers that probably would have prevented them from being friends.


Cruel Summer is built around the idea that the typical choices any teenager — especially an adolescent girl — might make can be wielded against her as a sign of her ostensible sociopathy. Jeanette might have ditched her insecure best friend Mallory (Harley Quinn Smith) because they grew apart, or because Mallory proved an obstacle in Jeanette’s Machiavellian climb toward popularity. And when Jeanette rehearses likability in the mirror, that might be her calculated presentation of a more broadly appealing version of herself to curry favor with those around her — or just doing what teenage girls have been doing since the invention of adolescence as a time of social experimentation and discovery of one’s true self. It’s certainly a smart and tantalizing concept to construct a show around.


The series isn’t necessarily a crime drama, though a crime is committed. It’s more about how people change in brief spurts of time and the effects of lasting trauma. A key element of the series is the setup between the era, not just to differentiate what period we’re in, but to illustrate how we see memory after something horrible happens. The world of 1993 is bright and rich. Kate, seen through Jeanette’s eyes, is a golden girl with her life in order. Even when the episode is told from Kate’s point of view, the world is bright but it’s evident she’s already dealing with things that could just as easily have turned her into the young woman she is by 1995.


The two leads are incredibly strong in their performances, hooking into the story’s marrow. Chiara Aurelia wasn’t given much to work within Amazon’s “Tell Me Your Secrets,” and people who watched that series might feel Jeanette is just a retread of her character there. But what makes Jeanette Turner so interesting is how Aurelia portrays her earnestness and desire to fit in. Surprisingly this doesn’t feel like her story, and much of what happens to her throughout is told by others, even when the episode is told through her POV. The 1995 storyline, wherein Jeanette is working on being “likable” to defeat Kate, gives Aurelia more meat to bite into.


The time-hopping in Cruel Summer is so hyper that it reminds us of the time-jumpy plot of Firefly Lane, but with the darkness of a teen drama like Pretty Little Liars. Both women make each of their stories believable and that keeps the viewers wondering who is telling the truth. These two characters both bring suspense that adds a chilling effect to the show. The soundtrack features fun ‘90s songs like “I Wanna Be Down” by Brandy and “Zombie” by the Cranberries to enhance the old-school effect. At other times, the soundtrack transitions to darker sounds that build tension.  Though it may be too early for theories, especially with the first three episodes leaving plenty of unanswered questions, the show keeps viewers guessing on what is going to happen next.“Cruel Summer” is an interesting, binge-friendly show perfect for audiences who love drama, suspense and mystery.


Final Score – [8/10]
Reviewed by – Ritika Kispotta
Follow her @KispottaRitika on Twitter (https://twitter.com/KispottaRitika)

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