Programming Review: ‘Cruel Summer’

Cruel Summer
Chia Aurelia (l.) and Olivia Holt in Freeform’s Cruel Summer. (Image credit: Freeform)

Freeform takes an inside look at the often-complicated lives of teenage girls in its new original series, Cruel Summer.

The series, executive produced by Jessica Biel, provides a unique perspective into the lives of two teenagers, Jeanette Turner (Chiara Aurelia) and Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt). Set in the 1990s, the story takes place over the course of three years and chronicles the events that surround Kate, the seemingly glamorous and popular high school girl with a hunky boyfriend, and Jeanette, the cute-but-nerdy girl who wants to be popular like Kate. 

Jeanette’s obsession with Kate is made obvious early in the series, when during a chance meeting at the mall Jeanette can hardly bring herself to say hello to the pretty Kate. Kate is polite but pays Jeanette little mind as her boyfriend Jamie (Froy Gutierrez), who is Jeanette’s secret crush, soon occupies all of Kate’s attention. 

The series flashes forward and back, playing out the circumstances that eventually led to Kate’s disappearance and a makeover of Jeanette from an obscure, awkward teen to the new “it girl” at school. With the cloud of Kate’s disappearance hovering over the town and questions regarding Jeanette’s image transformation, it becomes clear that there’s more to the relationship between Kate and Jeanette than meets the eye.

Cruel Summer cleverly portrays the evolving lives and challenges each girl faces both in their social and family lives through flashbacks and flash-forwards between the three years, while building the toward the inevitable conclusion of what happened to Kate, and the clear evolution of Jeanette’s appearance, mood and emotional state as she becomes inevitably tied to Kate’s disappearance. 

Viewers will have to stay engaged as the eight-episode storyline travels quickly back and forth across the three years, but it’s worth the investment to see how Cruel Summer shrouds a fascinating mystery within the many facets and dimensions of teen life. 

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.