Cruel Summer Season 1 Premiere Review: A Chilling Mystery That Will Keep You Hooked

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The worlds of Jeanette Turner and Kate Wallis will never be the same again.

A lot can happen over the course of three summers (and three years) to turn everything upside down. Based on the mystery started on Cruel Summer Season 1 Episode 1 and Cruel Summer Season 1 Episode 2, the story of their interconnected paths and horrors is just beginning.

Secrets, lies, and deception. The dark side of these three summers is spinning the tale of a juicy mystery you'll want to solve.

A Sweet Birthday - Cruel Summer Season 1 Episode 1

Cruel Summer features an interesting editing style to its storytelling. Each episode focuses on one specific day during the summer across three years. And, it's primarily set on one character and their movements during that day.

Starting with Jeanette first and then Kate was the right structure because it established the key threads of the mystery and teased events to come. Both teens are the main characters in the mystery, and everything will eventually connect back to them.

Though, the Cruel Summer Season 1 premiere takes a bit of adjusting to understand.

Plots bounce back-and-forth across the years quickly, and in some cases, the years change within the same scene. There's a fascinating scene of Jeanette moving through her bedroom as she appears throughout the years.

Fast Frenemies - Cruel Summer Season 1 Episode 1

A good tip to know what year you're watching is to look at Jeanette's or Kate's hairstyles.

Jeanette's haircut shifts were very specific (i.e., wavy vs. straight vs. chopped), so picking up on the stage of her life became easier as the story progressed. Kate had some differentiation, but she had a noticeable shift to her grunge look in 1995.

If future episodes shift to focus on other characters, this may become more difficult to follow. Vince had a new hairstyle in 1995, but the other characters stayed mostly the same.

Cruel Summer is not a series to lightly follow in the background; you'll need to watch to pick up on all the yearly threads.

A Dark Future - Cruel Summer Season 1 Episode 1

Another slight difference of the years can be found in the color style and music.

The stage of the mystery shifts as the characters move throughout the years. For example, 1993 is brighter light and yellow with more upbeat music while 1995 is darker blues and muted tones. The 1995 scenes have mostly rock and grunge music.

I loved this editing style because it easily translated to the vibe of the plot and how the characters were at that moment.

Plus, it all feels so 90s. Cruel Summer is killing it with their music choices! (The version of "Zombie" will quickly find its way into my playlist.)

First Meeting - Cruel Summer Season 1 Episode 1

Jeanette's rise and fall was the classic case of "be careful what you wish for."

Her character arc followed the typical nerd-becomes-popular storyline. The 1993 and 1994 plots uncovered many of the expected cliche beats, acknowledging her awkwardness and envy of the popular girl and ditching her old friends.

Jeanette Turner, I hope you rot in hell.


What balanced her story was the stark change to her personality, plot, and appearance in the 1995 summer. The 1995 Jeanette highlighted a  sharp difference in how the years affected her; she was not the same Jeanette with braces and wavy hair.

The harsh reality hit her hard, and she became public enemy #1. This plot seems intriguing because we'll get to follow the stages of her getting what she wants, losing it all, and potentially finding a conclusion to the chaos.

What that conclusion will be is still left to be told.

Vince - Cruel Summer Season 1 Episode 1

In addition to Jeanette's story, it's exciting to figure out how the years affected the people around her. Comparatively, the people in Kate's life carried over all three years, but Cruel Summer Season 1 Episode 1 showed stark changes to the people in Jeanette's life.

Why did her mother leave her father? Where was her brother? How did her friendship with Vince and Mallory end before 1994?

Jeanette: Mallory, I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m here. I’ve been here. You can say that I pulled away from you, but you pulled away from me too. So, I don’t understand where all this rage is coming from, but if you want to talk, you know where to find me.
[Jeanette gives Mallory a hug]
Mallory: God, you sound just like her.

Granted, Jeanette seemed friendly with Vince in 1995, but they didn't seem to be close at all. Mallory made a point of bringing up Vince's old crush on Jeanette, so that plot point will no doubt return to drive a wedge.

And let's not forget the case of Mallory and the huge chip on her shoulder.

We Used To Be Friends - Cruel Summer Season 1 Episode 1

What could've broken up Mallory's friendship with Kate pre-1993? Why wasn't she shown in 1995?

As much as I love a petty queen, Mallory's actions toward Jeanette were more childish than cunning. Her comebacks in the clothing store in 1994 landed with a huge thud because they weren't clever or funny.

Mallory might have a deep-seated hatred against Kate for what happened in their past. Her reaction during the VHS news recording hinted that there's more to their story and her feelings. And, with history repeating itself, that anger could've carried over to Jeanette's rise in popularity.

We need to keep our eyes on Mallory. She's either the red herring or a key player in this mystery.

Young Love - Tall - Cruel Summer Season 1 Episode 1

Jamie and Ben's involvement in the mystery will be an interesting story to uncover.

Firstly, Jamie has anger issues. Regardless of what he heard, he shouldn't have hit Jeanette! And the gun he was carrying in 1995 hints at a reckless decision he'll no doubt make.

Jamie decided to start dating Jeanette and sleep with her after Kate went missing. That was his choice, and he needs to live with it; he's not the victim in the situation.

Jamie: Did you see her?
[Jamie turns his head]
Jeanette: Look at me! No! Of course not.
Jamie: I just don’t know what to think.
Jeanette: You know I would never lie to you. I would never lie to you, okay?

Secondly, what did Jeanette do that changed Ben's life forever?

Ben came across as a minor character, but Cruel Summer made a point to bring up his football prospects and something that changed his life. We need more to his story to understand Ben's character and what part he plays in the mystery.

Kate's storyline during "A Smashing Good Time" took two different approaches: (1) what led her to that fateful street, and (2) her dealing with the trauma and aftermath.

Cruel Summer used a good approach when dealing with Kate's trauma after being rescued. It wasn't outlandish or dramatic to emphasize a point; the scenes were played subtlely and dealt with the seriousness she felt being back. The 1994 Kate had a lot to unpack, and when she found her strength, she took back her power.

Kate: Mama. Mama, I’m so sorry. I jumped to conclusions and I didn’t…
[Joy pulls Kate away]
Joy: Listen here, Little Miss, if you make false allegations about sins like adultery, and which could ruin this family as we know it, that is very unflattering. You’re embarrassing yourself. Now run along. As I very clearly stated, I don’t want to speak with you in this moment.

Through the 1995 Kate, we could witness the after-effects of living post-kidnapping.

Just like Jeanette, this Kate differed sharply. She was rebellious and still dealt with flashes from her capture. Hopefully, through 1994 and 1995, we'll explore the shifts in what led Kate to push everyone away and become grunge.

Summer Days - Cruel Summer Season 1 Episode 2

The big question of the Cruel Summer Season 1 premiere was if Jeanette actually found Kate trapped in Martin's basement or not.

There's a lot of doubt in the theory because both Jeanette and Kate seemed like they were hiding stuff in their stories. Kate and Jeanette are unreliable narrators that have a lot riding on either side winning the court case.

Plus, Kate's chatroom messages made it clear that she wasn't completely honest about something. If that's Jeanette finding her, that would mean she's protecting someone who did (my money's on you, Mallory!), or she made it up completely.

I'm not making a hard accusation yet, but "A Smashing Good Time" set it up like Kate was framing Jeanette because she was dating Jamie. Potentially, that could be a red herring, and it was Jeanette all along.

Cruel Summer could go in so many directions with this web.

The New Stranger - Cruel Summer Season 1 Episode 2

Last Timely Thoughts:

  • Martin Harris had that "boy-next-door nice guy" appeal that would have so many secrets. His first interaction with Jeanette seemed off from the start.
  • Does anyone else think Cindy Turner will have an affair with Rod? She wants to climb the social ladder very high.
  • Kate's mother was so manipulatively cruel. It's all about appearances and social hierarchy with her; she probably turns a blind eye to any suspicions of her husband.
  • Angela is not the one to be messed with, Jeanette!
Family Drama - Cruel Summer Season 1 Episode 2

Now, over to you, Cruel Summer fanatics!

What did you think of "Happy Birthday, Jeanette Turner" and "A Smashing Good Time"?

What is Kate not being honest about? Did Jeanette find Kate trapped as a prisoner? What broke up Mallory, Vince, and Jeanette as friends?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Happy Birthday, Jeanette Turner Review

Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.7 / 5.0 (19 Votes)

Justin Carreiro is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.

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Cruel Summer Season 1 Episode 1 Quotes

Jeanette Turner, I hope you rot in hell.


Jeanette: Mallory, I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m here. I’ve been here. You can say that I pulled away from you, but you pulled away from me too. So, I don’t understand where all this rage is coming from, but if you want to talk, you know where to find me.
[Jeanette gives Mallory a hug]
Mallory: God, you sound just like her.