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Cruel Summer - Season 1 - Roundtable Review

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At a time when streaming giants and networks rule the proverbial TV roost, it's always a pleasant surprise when a little show from a cable channel ends up being somewhat of a sensation, and Cruel Summer did just that. The ten-episode series sets up a dark kidnapping mystery that follows the entertwined lives of two teenage girls in the nineties. Please join Jamie, Lip, Jessica C, and I for this discussion, with our (riveting) thoughts and favorite parts of the show!

1. How did you first hear about Cruel Summer and what made you want to watch (and stick around after that)?

Lip: I watched the first teaser on YouTube and it sucked me in. I love mystery shows, and I was completely hooked after episode 1.

Jamie: I saw a gifset on Tumblr. I had seen promotional pictures before but I thought it was some murder mystery style show which isn't really my thing. But then I saw a gifset of that Kate scream from 1x02 and went like "she's alive?" After watching the promo I was interested and decided to watch the first 2 episodes (only ones released at the time) and by the end of the second one I was completely hooked.

Jessica C: The show was recommended to me on Hulu for a while but I didn’t have a lot of free time to watch. I heard a lot of buzz about how suspenseful and twisty it was and knew it was something I’d find myself hooked on. After finishing the second episode, I had already developed very strong opinions about most of the main characters and had to know who did what and who knew what. There was no going back.

Cecile: I'd heard good things about the show on social media, but had no idea what it was about before going in. It took Mare of Easttown ending and me finding myself without a show to obsess over, for me to finally try it. Luckily, all the episodes were out by that point, so I didn't have to wait weeks to see the storylines unfold. That said, it would've been nice to follow the theories live, when people were coming up with them, so I kind of wish I'd started earlier! After watching the first episode, the characters and concept made me want to know more.

2. The show uses a triple timeline as well as episodes that alternate between Kate and Jeanette’s point of views, with occasional interactions that bring the two together. How well did you think this device worked (and is there any way to replace unlikely wigs hairstyles / filters as ways to differentiate timelines)?

Lip: I think part of what made this show work so well (other than the 90s nostalgia) was jumping back and forth in time, trying to figure out who’s lying and what made the characters change so much. The makeup and costume departments did an awesome job (Jeanette’s haircut in ‘95 served its purpose, lol). And I loved the filters, you could instantly tell in which year the scene took place and every filter reflected the mood of the characters in that specific year.

Jamie: I liked the different POV's and timelines. It kept the mystery going. The different filters bugged me a bit but I get the point of them. It made it really easy to tell what timeline we were in, same as the haircuts (though I hated Jeanette's 95 cut). But now that we're done with those years, it'll be interesting to see if they stick with it.

Jessica C: Overall, I thought the timeline and POV changes worked extremely well for this story and these characters. It was a little confusing in the beginning to figure out which year we were in while also trying to get to know everyone involved. But the story unfolding this way created a really interesting oscillation between who was lying and who was telling the truth at any given time.

Cecile: I actually wish Kate's haircuts had been more easily distinguishable because sometimes I did get confused as to which year it was! Overall, the devices worked well but I do think a better balance between the episodes would have helped the show stay stellar throughout. Jeannette's episodes were always enthralling, but Kate's seemed slower and lacked, well... Jeannette.

3. Lies and deceptions are at the heart of this show, some with vastly more dramatic consequences than others. Did you find Kate’s reluctance to tell the real story understandable? Did you feel it was believable that Jeannette would do all this just because of pressure to become more popular?

Lip: Kate feared people would’ve judged her and would’ve questioned her whole story, she had no choice but to lie. I think it would’ve been hard for her today, let alone in the 90s. Jeanette definitely felt the pressure of society, but so do thousands of other kids… She had darkness in her that started to grow after she broke into Martin's house the first time. What she did is terrible and she doesn't seem so remorseful.

Jamie: Yes and yes. I understood why Kate didn't want to tell the truth. She feels like it's her fault, like people would blame her. That's what's so toxic about grooming. It's so hard to explain to other people. I'm pretty sure most people wouldn't have understood. As for Jeanette, people do crazy stuff for popularity and I'm still convinced Jeanette has sociopathic tendancies.

Jessica C: Absolutely. Kate was manipulated into believing that if anyone found out what really happened, that she would suffer consequences too. That her own reputation would be damaged as a result. Even though her abuser was gone, that trauma remains and it is very real. In Jeanette’s case, I can definitely see the pressure mounting to that degree. Several people close to her tried pushing Jeanette to conform to their own standards of popularity, and to what end? High school popularity is such a fickle thing; the problem is you don’t realize that fact until it no longer matters.

Cecile: The show did a great job leading to the reveal about how Kate's situation truly came to happen, and how trapped she found herself. To anyone who saw this from afar, it seemed like she could've left anytime, when in fact she was constantly manipulated into staying in her golden cage, even before being held captive in the basement.
I'm not American and my highschool experience was pretty tame, so I do have trouble relating to going to those kinds of lengths for ephemeral popularity. Jeannette already had good friends to hang out with, so her desperation seemed off to me (and with good reason, now that we know just how far she went to secure her position at the top of the food chain). Of course, it can't be easy having a mother constantly reminding you of what you could be and aren't, and Jeanette probably wasn't removed from the situation enough to realize her mother's alleged popularity in high school had brought her nowhere, in fact just like Jeannette, she became the outsider, always looking in.

4. As Jeannette’s mother wisely says, some friendships don’t stand the test of time, but Cruel Summer really flipped most of them on their heads. Which one felt the most genuine (or least!) to you, and who do you want to see still be close following the aftermath?

Lip: I liked Mallory and Kate's friendship, it blossomed in an unexpected and genuine way. I hope they keep being in each other's lives (as girlfriends after that kiss!). Vince is a great friend, but he has no idea who he's friends with...

Jamie: I like the interactions between Jeanette and Vince, they seem to have a really genuine friendship even if Jeanette is lying about stuff. Other than that, I don't know. This show doesn't really have that many healthy friendships. Kate and Mallory are clearly more than friends now but I feel like she could use a purely platonic friend as well. One that doesn't keep stuff from her.

Jessica C: I think Jeanette and Vince’s friendship felt mostly genuine to me, though even their friendship wasn’t without some level of deceit. I don’t believe Jeanette is capable of holding on to any sense of authenticity with the secrets she keeps. I’m not a fan of Mallory but it does seem like she and Kate have a connection that may serve to balance each other out. I hope that’s the case and would love to see that carried over into a new season.

Cecile: It was perplexing to me how Kate's two best friends immediately adopted Jeannette when she started dating Jamie, and then promptly dropped her as soon as Kate resurfaced. More realistic felt the fact that Jeanette and Mallory had a falling out, but then again I couldn't understand how she and Vincent had been friends with Mallory in the first place, considering how grating she was. I wish Vincent had had more screen time and his own storylines, because out of all of them, he felt like the only endearing one. Kate and Mallory's friendship also pretty much came out of nowhere, so I feel like the show could've done a better job at making these new (and old) relationships feel more real.

5. After everything the girls went through, that final Jeanette reveal really gives a whole new meaning to “lying by omission”. Were you expecting that twist? Did it make you see the entire season under a new light? Had you figured out “who” Annabelle was?

Lip: Although I like Kate, Jeanette was my favorite. Not only all the positive characters were by her side, but her 1993 self was just so innocent. I was willing to ignore how good she was at lying in '94 and '95, and the fact that there was realistically NO WAY she never broke into that house while Kate was held captive. It's not that I thought she was innocent, I wanted her to be innocent. And once I realized that, I knew the twist was coming. I thought Annabelle was going to be a girl Martin killed.

Jamie: I did not expect that twist at all, even though I was still convinced that Jeanette was shady. I just had this feeling from the very first episode. That scene where she was practicing how to act in front of people just gave me a bad vibe.

Jessica C: There was definitely a part of me that didn’t trust Jeanette hadn’t encountered Kate (apart from Christmas) with the amount of times she broke into Martin’s home. I could also tell that there was something really disingenuous about Jeanette’s appearance on The Marsha Bailey Show. Yet, I was still stunned when I realized how easy it was for her to lie about knowing at all. Even with Kate herself! I guess that’s on me though because Jeanette always said she didn’t see Kate in the basement, she never claimed she didn’t hear her. I didn't predict who Annabelle was but truthfully I couldn’t even begin to guess. At that point, I was just hoping that Martin hadn’t done this to anyone else.

Cecile: I didn't expect Mallory's role in all this, and a lot could have been avoided if Kate and Jeanette's versions of events had been confronted earlier on (but then, there wouldn't have been a show, would there). Despite hoping that Jeanette wasn't lying and that she was innocent, based on her past behavior, it seemed unlikely that the show would neatly wrap up with everyone forgiving each other. To be fair though, it almost seemed like the three Jeanettes were different people altogether, I had a hard time seeing the natural progression from one to the other, so in addition to sociopathic tendencies, I do wonder if Jeanette suffered from some other kind of personnality disorder. I never would've guessed Annabelle's true identity (ha), I thought she was some kind of split personnality Kate had developed, in order to cope with what has happening to her.

6. The show has already been renewed for a second season, although it’s unclear if it will consist of a follow up with the same characters, or something more anthological with a new mystery to unfold. What are you hoping to see?

Lip: I want to see these characters again, it's why people fell in love with the show so quickly. A character like Jeanette can't just disappear after that ending. But they need another strong mystery... Maybe Season 2 can jump back in time to when their mothers were teenagers, or Martin's teenage years, and then we'll revisit Jeanette, Kate and the others in Season 3.

Jamie: I'm hoping to see these characters again. Especially after that cliffhanger. It can't just end there, I want some justice. But I'm not sure where they can go from here. When Kate admitted that it wasn't Jeanette she saw, she lost her credibility. Jeanette has the upper hand and I don't see her admitting what she did. She's already proven to be an excellent liar.

Jessica C: I don’t really have any major expectations for a second season. What I really enjoyed about this first season was that they tied things up quite well while still leaving that last shocker of a thread hanging. Without Kate’s disappearance driving the story and intrigue, new conflict would need to be introduced for a continuation of this story to work. So either way, I’m interested to see which direction they choose and how they’ll hold on to the mystery that pulled me in from the beginning.

Cecile: Like the others said, while I enjoyed seeing these characters, I'm not sure how a second season would work if they stay on this particular story. Maybe they could focus on a mystery involving other characters, but still set in the same town so we get a glimpse as to what they're becoming. Regardless, I know I'll check it out!

7. Any other thoughts you’d like to share about the show?

Lip: Great soundtrack/costumes, great acting, great storytelling. YA shows get no love at the awards, but Cruel Summer would deserve it.

Cecile: I'm really glad shows like these still exist, where they seemingly come out of nowhere and end up being very entertaining.

As usual, sound off in the comments below, we'd love to know your thoughts about the show, the storylines, and an intriguing second season!

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