REVIEW – Cruel Summer (2021)

I know what you might be thinking right now.  Why should I be watching, what looks like, a typical teen drama set in a small Texas town in the 90's?  Looks can be deceiving, and that's one of the things that Cruel Summer actually explores in a twist filled double premiere episode tonight (April 20th) on Freeform.  I already shared what the show was about last week.  So, now let me dig a little deeper and tell you what I think.

I called the series a "perspective mystery" in my last headline, now let me explain that a bit more.  Believing is seeing, right?  Well, we learn far too often in life, that isn't always the case.  Cruel Summer often lets you think you're seeing something clearly, when there is much more under the surface.  This show is definitely more of an iceberg than a lily pad.

At the same time, you could easily draw different conclusions on characters than other fans do.  I feel like there will be a lot of debate surrounding both of the show's focal characters of Jeanette Turner (Chiara Aurelia) and Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt).  From there first meeting, to what eventually happens with Kate's disappearance, it will be very easy to want to draw conclusions.  Credit the writer's room for a great job in these premiere episodes of making viewers want to do that.  Even with me warning you about that, odds are you'll end up doing it anyway, because that's part of the intrigue of this show.  We always want to pick a side, pick a team.  Are you Team Jeanette or Team Kate?  Well, it might not be that simple this time.

One thing that I think everyone will agree on is that, Aurelia's performance is pretty incredible in this series.  The fact that she is essentially playing three different characters over three different timelines so flawlessly is no easy task.  It's not even a simple coming of age factor for a teenage girl, it's far more drastic than that.  It's more of a transformation, each more shocking than the next.  It's also a great metaphor to highlight where she is in her life at the time.  It also helps keep these three timelines seamless in the overall story.  We've seen this get messy in other shows in the past trying this juggling act, but Cruel Summer actually takes advantage of it.

This isn't all outside the box.  You'll still see some similar themes to other teenage dramas.  There will still be struggles when it comes to family life, friendships and all of the drawbacks to growing up in a small town.  Then there's the added perspective of what happens when said small town suddenly finds itself in the spotlight over a high profile news story.  So, if those are things that you enjoy about your young adult series, they will still be there.  They simply aren't the crutch that holds this show up and hopes that you'll help drag it along for a season or two.

You'll also see some strong performances from some secondary characters as well.  I think fans of Grey's Anatomy will really enjoy seeing a bit of a different side to Sarah Drew in this series.  Harley Quinn Smith and Allius Barnes are also an easy pair to relate to and root for, especially if you didn't exactly run with the "cool kid" during your high school days.  It might even take you back a bit to your own experiences, because the two felt quite relatable to me.

Overall, Cruel Summer is a series that takes two kinds of stories that we've seen a lot, and combines them in a way that will make you want to keep watching.  It won't necessarily be the show that everyone is talking about, but you'll likely find yourself discussing this one with a circle of friends for sure.  Don't make the mistake of passing on this one because you've decided that it looks like it's not for you.  You might just be surprised at how much the mystery brings you in and ends up being more substance than soap.

Photo Credit:  Freeform/Bill Matlock