The “easy” decision comes ahead of the season one finale, tonight, Tuesday June 15.
However, how the Jessica Biel-exec produced series returns is still up in the air; the mystery could return with a new story with the same characters and actors or using the same storytelling device featuring a whole new cast of characters.
The series, which was the first scripted series to debut under new Freeform President Tara Duncan, who started the job just under a year ago, became the Disney-owned network’s most-watched series ever, ranking as the number one new cable drama of the year among women aged 18-34, with the most recent episode delivering the drama’s biggest linear TV audience yet, rising by 31% over its premiere. In multiplatform+35 day, the series, which is available on Hulu the day after its linear airing, averages 6.8 million viewers per episode, and was also the streamer’s most-watched next-day season one title from a linear channel in its first seven weeks to date.
Cruel Summer is a psychological thriller that follows two young women: Kate Wallis, the popular girl with a charmed life who one day goes missing, and Jeanette Turner, the nerdy wannabe 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.
The series stars Olivia Holt, Chiara Aurelia, Michael Landes, Froy Gutierrez, Harley Quinn Smith, Allius Barnes, Blake Lee and Brooklyn Sudano.
It comes from studio eOne and was created by Bert V. Royal. Tia Napolitano serves as showrunner. Executive producers include Napolitano, Royal and Iron Ocean Productions’ Jessica Biel and Michelle Purple. Max Winkler directed the pilot.
Duncan told Deadline, “I think what has really resonated with audiences is that there’s a very clear, strong mystery, but a mystery that’s told from the point of view of two characters that people can really relate to. That central conceit of ‘is the grass always greener on the other side?’ and that perspective of ‘who do you believe Jeanette or Kate?’ and that the story should shift depending on whose shoes you stand in, I just think is one that is really relatable for this audience. The idea of an unravelling mystery that’s told week over week is one that the audience has obviously responded to.”
Mystery drama, as seen in a slightly older form on HBO’s Mare of Eastown, is evidently still a genre that brings in audiences. “It’s mystery coupled with a point of view that does feel very relevant to young adult audiences today, the issues that our characters are facing are the same issues that young people are dealing with in our current environment is also why it’s struck a chord on many different levels,” Duncan added.
What’s interesting with Cruel Summer’s impressive numbers is that it is based on original idea and isn’t a reboot, sequel series or even based on a book, podcast or news story. “People were wondering was this a true story because it has a real ripped from the headlines feel. I think that’s a testament to the storytelling, quite frankly, and again the fact that this is a story told from the perspective of two characters, the audience has really been able to see themselves in both of them. If you’ve got great characters and a story well told, it will find an audience and succeed and really break out,” Duncan said.
[SPOILER ALERT] Last week’s episode – “A Secret of My Own” – featured a pretty sensitive reveal. Wallis, played by Holt, had maintained through the season that she was kidnapped and locked in the house of Vice Principal Martin Harris, played by Lee, the whole time. However, it’s revealed that Wallis willingly goes to him after he grooms her but then when she tries to leave, he locks her in his basement. In the finale, Kate and Jeanette’s worlds collide as the court date arrives, finally forcing the two young women to answer the question on everyone’s mind, but the answer comes with a price that not everyone can pay.
Duncan said the fact that you can have “two truths at the same time” has resonated with audiences. “Being able to dole the story out and show how both characters have experienced a chain of events has also resonated with audiences. Things can be complicated and wildly entertaining at the same time,” she said.
While the creative team will return for season two, Duncan has not yet heard the idea yet and admitted that it could feature a new story with the same cast or, in anthology form, use the device of two points of view using multiple timelines with a new group. She added that there’s been no talk of spinoffs, yet. “The only ‘s’ word is season two,” she joked.
“Collaborating with Iron Ocean, our dedicated crew, charismatic cast, and our partners at Freeform and eOne has been the best first showrunning experience I could ask for. I am beyond grateful and excited by the amazing fan response to our show. Continuing to bottle Cruel Summer magic for a Season two is an absolute dream come true,” said Tia Napolitano.
“We are so proud of this show and the incredible cast and crew who brought so much hard work and grit to every single scene. This wouldn’t have been possible without them and our mastermind showrunner, Tia Napolitano. To be picked up for a second season is a dream and we have so many ideas for where we can take this next. We are excited to get to work with our brilliant team of creatives on this project in addition to our partners at Freeform and eOne, including Jackie Sacerio who brought the project to us,” added executive producers Jessica Biel and Michelle Purple of Iron Ocean Productions. “To the audiences who have been tuning into this show week in and week out, thank you. This is all for you!”