By Isabel Vega
“Cruel Summer,” a ‘90s psychological thriller following a young woman who goes missing is the newest binge-worthy drama to hit Hulu. Kate Wallis, played by Olivia Holt, is the beloved popular girl with a seemingly perfect life while Jeanette Turner, played Chiara Aurelia, is a seemingly nerdy wannabe who is accused of being connected to Kate’s disappearance. Viewers do not know the degree of Jeanette’s complicity in Kate’s disappearance but based on the past four episodes, we can assume that she might have been involved and that she might have a reasonable explanation.
Set in the small town of Skylin, Texas, each episode of the new FreeForm drama series depicts a single day over the course of three years — 1993, 1994 and 1995 — in order to effectively illustrate the harrowing effects of a tragic kidnapping.
The show opens up in 1993 when the viewer is introduced to Jeanette, who wakes up on her 15th birthday. She is depicted as socially awkward and unpopular among her peers. She is immediately in awe of and drawn to Kate, who she runs into at the mall and tries to make conversation with. Kate and Jeanette attend the same school, but are not close. Kate is seen being friendly towards Jeanette, showcasing a well-intended heart. This adds to the mystery of Jeanette’s intentions when Kate disappears that year.
In 1994, Kate is still missing and Jeanette has had a complete makeover. Her hair is no longer frizzy, her braces have come off and her wardrobe underwent a major upgrade, along with her social life.
Kate is rescued from the basement she was being held captive in, but we are still unsure how. Kate struggles with remembering the events of her rescue and viewers see that play out in her therapy sessions.
Jeanette is now the Queen Bee of Kate’s friend group, and she is also currently dating Kate’s ex-boyfriend, Jamie. All suspicion is seemingly turned to Jeanette at this point, but viewers can not help but wonder about Kate, who has now been found and is struggling to return to her old life — which she finds out has been taken over by a stranger.
In 1995, Jeanette has shaved her head and is now the most hated person in America, and Kate is in a dark place coming to terms with her trauma, while holding out a vengeance on Jeanette. The hair, costumes, lighting and acting choices always make clear which year the plot is in.Aurelia and Holt hold up impressive distinct versions of their characters as both women are seen spiraling downwards together.
The overarching question that the series eventually offers up is, ‘which girl is telling the truth about Jeanette’s possible involvement in Kate’s captivity?’ However, this mystery does a great job in not taking away from the emotional believability of Kate’s unhappiness — particularly her feeling unimportant and replaceable as the world has seemed to have continued on despite her disappearance, even for her closest friends and family.
The time-hopping show has received positive reviews with a rating of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The thrilling mystery drama has emerged as the network’s best-ever series debut among young adults, drawing an average audience of 3.81 million multiplatform viewers within its first week.
FreeForm has named the show as the No. 1 most social scripted series premiere across cable year-to-date. Its ratings are a true indication of how successful the thriller series is.
Premiering on Tuesday, April 20, “Cruel Summer” managed to bring in around 250,000 viewers and a 0.1 rating in its linear debut on cable. This means that around 6% of the total audience for the premiere watched on premiere night, while the rest of its viewers caught up through on-demand and DVR. In the weeks to follow, numbers have been relatively the same.
Kristen Lopez of Indie Wire gave the show a B+ rating and praised Holt as “the real surprise” of the show that “will easily snatch up fans of ‘Pretty Little Liars.’”
“Holt takes on an angrier characterization that’s compelling to watch,” Lopez wrote. “This is a delicious slice of fun akin to a great beach read.”
The drama confronts a cynical crime and creates many questions surrounding who is at fault and what was the motive. Streamers can catch up on “Cruel Summer” every Wednesday on Hulu or watch in real-time on FreeForm every Tuesday at 10 p.m. This may just be your new favorite series!