Cruel Summer: Suspense and Intrigue with ’90s Nostalgia.

Cruel Summer is a new dark and twisty show premiering on Freeform. The show has a non-linear storytelling approach by sharing the story over three summers in the ’90s, and showcases how much a person can change over time. At the start of each episode, the date of the events will type out on the screen. From there, hold on to your hats because the wild ride you’re about to go on will have you second-guessing everyone on the show.

Jessica Radloff moderates the “Cruel Summer” Q&A with Jessica Biel, Tia Napolitano, Michelle Purple, Olivia Holt, and Chiara Aurelia at SXSW Online on March 19, 2021.

During SXSW, Executive Producer Jessica Biel chatted about what drew her to the project.

“We read the first episode and couldn’t stop thinking about the non-linear storytelling and the incredible female, young female characters,” Jessica Biel said. “Initially, you think there could be this girl vs. girl story, but it is completely about the difference of perspective. Your truth to somebody else’s truth.”

One of the things that stands out about Cruel Summer isn’t just the ability to transform your perspective through each summer in the ’90s, but how different each of the characters changes over a few years. Cruel Summer doesn’t just focus on the two main leading ladies. It takes a dive into all of the relationships that touch them, from friends to family as well.

I read the first two episodes, and I really fell in love with the characters,” Olivia Holt, who plays Kate Wallis, said. “I think that’s ultimately what drives me to really wanting to be a part of the project is when I feel like I can either relate to the characters or I just feel like they’re intriguing, interesting, and unique, and this was all of those things and beyond. To be involved with something that is so female-driven is really important to me in this time and day and age. I feel like we need that.”

The cast shared that they sometimes film all three eras on the same day and that it takes an amazing team to keep them in the headspace for the role they play during that summer. Each summer is portrayed so differently that it is a testament to the actors that shift into such different roles.

By the end of the series, Olivia Holt and Chiara Aurelia were trying to get sneak peeks at the final script. After watching four episodes, I’m completely hooked and can’t wait to see how the story plays out because every time I think I have a grasp on a character, a new episode shatters that mentality.


From executive producer Jessica Biel, Freeform’s highly anticipated psychological thriller “Cruel Summer” debuts in 2021. The unconventional drama takes place over three summers in the 90s when a beautiful and popular teen goes missing, and a seemingly unrelated girl transforms from a sweet and awkward outlier to the most popular girl in town, eventually becoming the most despised person in America. Each episode is told from alternating POVs.

“Cruel Summer” follows two young women; Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt), the popular girl with a charmed life who one day goes missing, and Jeanette Turner (Chiara Aurelia), the nerdy wannabee who is accused of being connected to Kate’s disappearance. All signs point to Jeanette’s guilt, but is Kate really who she seems to be? Set over three summers and told through shifting points of view, the series challenges perception and follows how one girl can go from being a sweet outlier to the most despised person in America.

Meghan Cooper
Meghan Cooper
Meghan Cooper is a writer, content creator, movie critic, and geek living in Atlanta, Ga. She loves movies, traveling, and lots of coffee. Member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association, Georgia Film Critics Association, and Atlanta Film Critics Circle.


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