In a world where the temperatures are rising, businesses are opening back up, and a painful year of Covid-related television show plotlines is coming to a close – summer is beginning. I’ve never noticed the spring as much as I have this year. I take my cat for a walk every day, and I’ve watched the leaves start to form as little chocolate tips on the branches and grow larger before they burst forth in a wave of green. It’s been a privilege to experience the spring slowly unfold this year, and the joy it brings me helps to ease the pain I feel that the television season is coming to a close (there are only a few SNLs left for the year!)
Judging by the way that Hulu had been barraging me with ads for Cruel Summer, I expected this to be the hottest summer show since Season 3 of Stranger Things. While Summer is undeniably captivating, it’s not the same level of storytelling that I’ve come to expect from a summer blockbuster series. What Cruel Summer uses to hold our attention is one of America’s favorite pastimes: white girl trauma porn. America is as obsessed with true crime (primarily crimes committed against white girls) as it is with super hero stories (don’t miss my recent take on Jupiter’s Legacy). Just like Netflix’s recent cruise through superhero-land, Cruel Summer uses the troupe of telling the story in multiple timelines moving parallel with each other. Unlike Jupiter, however, Summer pulls it off a bit better. The simultaneous timelines are necessary to keep the viewer in suspense.
Each episode of Cruel Summer spans three years in a quiet town of Texas where a young woman, Kate Wallace, goes missing. It begins in 1993, when Jeanette Turner is fifteen, a bit geeky and very much obsessed with Kate. In 1994, Kate has just been found after being held in a basement of the neighborhood for the better part of a year. She discovers that Jeanette has straightened her hair and stolen Kate’s life by befriending her old best friends and dating her old boyfriend. During the final summer, 1995, Jeanette is suing Kate because Kate told the police that Jeanette saw her during her captivity and didn’t report it, keeping Kate in the basement for months longer.
The multiple storylines serve to keep the viewer in suspense while we all try to discover if Kate is telling the truth or if her memory is affected by the trauma she endured in the basement. We’re left in the air, wondering if Jeanette is a victim of gossip and lies or if she’s truly a sociopath. Cruel Summer has so far been avoiding the actual trauma of it all, showing us the preceding events and the after effects on Kate’s mind and life. This serves to keep us hooked, unable to turn away until we know how she was kidnapped and what happened there. It’s like a train wreck or an episode of SVU, I just can’t turn away.
I’m not sure how I’ll feel about Cruel Summer in the end, but I know that I can’t stop watching it now. Especially because there’s nothing better on.
I won’t be posting next week but do not fear, I’m not dead – I’m on vacation! I got vaxxed so I’m heading to the ocean. Hang tight, I’ll be back in a week with an analysis of trauma in The Hunger Games and my thoughts on Stick It and Bring It On.