On the surface, Freeform’s marketing has been intense, with trailers and commercials giving just enough intrigue to entice fans — many of whom may not already be regular viewers of the network formerly known as ABC Family, given its common associations with millennial or Disney viewers.
A new thriller on Freeform is being called “unconventional” and a “time twister,” and its structure is highly unusual for primetime TV.
But the cable channel’s more recent shows (like “Good Trouble” and “Grown-ish”) have developed extensive followings, and there’s no doubt “Cruel Summer” will attract those same audiences.
“Cruel Summer” tells the story two high school students in the 1990s, one popular and the other an outsider — and each girl gets to tell their version of what happened.
Although this is definitely a different format, it’s also fascinating and highly entertaining.
“Cruel Summer” goes decades back in time and then jumps between three different years during the course of each episode.
In 1993, Jeanette is sweet but awkward. In 1994, she is no longer nave and dating the boyfriend of a popular girl named Kate, who has gone missing.
In 1995, the once shy teen is in a considerably darker place — as she makes clear by telling us, “I have been lied about, spit at, made fun of, I am the most hated person in the nation.”
Jeanette is played by Chiara Aurelia.
“There are shifting perspectives, and you’re kind of following two girls in two different worlds with two drastically different experiences,” she said.
Teen angst is omnipresent, as the trailer notes, “We all want what we can’t have, even if we have to change ourselves to get it.”
One episode is told from Jeanette’s point of view, while the next hour is from Kate’s perspective. And these different points of view alternate for the run of the series.
“It’s mysterious, it’s nostalgic, it’s interesting,” said Olivia Holt, who plays Kate. “It’s captivating, and you are really drawn in from the moment you start the show. And you’re really transported back in time to the 90s.”
The two leads are incredibly strong in their performances, hooking into the story’s marrow. Chiara Aurelia wasn’t given much to work with in 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.
But there’s another component to “Cruel Summer” that it’s weaponizing, and that’s nostalgia — though not in the same way Disney+ shows and other streaming series are using it.
The young stars were not yet alive that decade, but anyone who was will recall the sounds of dial-up modems. Holt needed some explainers, and Aurelia was still figuring things out months after filming.
“There was a lot of technology we didn’t quite understand, with the pagers and the dial-up modems, and Walkmans and all that jazz,” she said. “There was definitely a lot of the prop department looking at me going, ‘Chiara, c’mon!'”