A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
The series delves into the politics of popularity, looking at the pain of being excluded and the compromises that must often be made to be liked by a crowd. The pain of this show's teen characters are taken seriously and aren't trivialized. Female competitiveness is emphasized, with characters arguing over power and male attention.
Positive Role Models
This show, like most in the true crime genre, focuses on a crime with sexual elements enacted on a young, prosperous, attractive, white girl. The way her ordeal is shown is non-exploitative, but it can't be denied that this is a true crime cliche with far-reaching real world consequences. Characters are somewhat unrealistic, with their motivations and actions heightened for drama; there is some realism in the way the teen girls grapple for power, including gossip and exclusion.
Violence & Scariness
A teen girl's abduction sets this story into motion; expect to see her in a confined space, being menaced by an adult man. In one scene, a teen boy hits a teen girl in the face during an emotional moment, giving her a bloody nose.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A boy wakes up a girl on her birthday, then he climbs into bed and kisses her passionately as they refer to having had sex. A girl describes her first sexual experience vaguely as "magical" and "perfect." There are euphemisms for sex, some vulgar: "slipping it to," "screwing."
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Cursing is infrequent: "hell," "s--t," "sucked."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A depressed teen pours a large glass of straight liquor to drink while watching TV alone; a teen jokes that on his 15th birthday, his dad let him crack his "first" beer.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Cruel Summer is a drama series about a popular teen who goes missing and the aftermath. The show's focus on popularity is one of its strong points; it displays the pain of exclusion and the things that people, and in particular teen girls, do to get and maintain popularity and power, including gossip and exclusion. Because of the abduction plot, you can expect to see a teen girl confined and abused by an adult man, as well as her loved ones grieving in various ways. Sexual visuals are generally confined to kissing, some of it quite passionate, but there are verbal references to teens and others having sex ("screwing"). During an emotional moment, a teen boy hits a girl in the nose, making her bleed; she forgives him immediately. A depressed teen drinks a glass of liquor while brooding over TV; another teen jokes about his father giving him his first beer on his 15th birthday. Language isn't constant but includes "hell" and "s--t." The show's overall tone is dark and bleak; families and friends have battles and are at odds, and teens are depressed and in need of help.
Is It Any Good?
Dark, spooky, and compelling, this drama spools out its juicy twists so adroitly that viewers will find their sympathies swinging wildly from one character to the next. Is Jeanette a cold-blooded co-conspirator, or an innocent victim of circumstance who's been horribly misjudged? Is Kate's abduction as straightforward as it seems, and is her animosity towards Jeanette legit? What's the story with the simmering (but buried) conflict between these two teens' moms, and how did it impact Kate's ordeal? These mysteries and others pop along quickly, and the moment you think you have a handle on what happened, you're due for another revelation.
It helps that Cruel Summer's skipping-through-time format makes a chronology of events harder to construct. When we meet them in 1993, Kate is a high school queen and Jeanette's a wanna-be; by 1994, Kate's missing and Jeanette has seemingly taken her place in their high school's social circle; in 1995, Kate's grappling with the fallout of her experiences, while Jeanette's a pariah facing criminal charges. What happened in between each of the days we're allowed to view that pushed the narrative this way or that? You'll find out, but slowly, tantalizingly, and always in a way that makes you want to move on to the next episode immediately in a manner that might remind some viewers of the gripping first seasons of teen mysteries like Riverdale and 13 Reasons Why. In other words: get ready for your next binge.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.