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Cruel Summer Boss Reveals How Thriller Series Will Tackle the Truth From Two Perspectives

Who do you believe?

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Megan Vick

[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the first two episodes of Cruel Summer. Please read at your own risk!]

The first two episodes of Freeform'sCruel Summer have arrived and the twisty ride of Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt) and Jeanette Turner's (Chiara Aurelia) wild summers of 1993, 1994, and 1995 is only just beginning. The premiere episode followed Jeanette on June 21 of those three years, with her youngest self starting a rebellious summer with her friends. In 1994, Jeanette ditched her braces and glasses in favor of more popularity and a whole new friend group. Then in 1995, we discovered that Jeanette became the most hated girl in the nation, and it's all because of the disappearance of Kate Wallis during that first summer. At first, Kate is presumed to be a runaway, but by the end of the episode the audience finds out that Kate not only is alive, but Jeanette has an unclear role in why she was held captive for so long. 

The second episode followed Kate's journey during June 26 of those same summers, giving the audience a glimpse of her home life and the trauma she was dealing with both immediately and a year after she was rescued from her kidnapper's house. There's still a lot of questions about how Kate ended up in that basement, how she got out, and Jeanette's exact role in why she stayed captive for so long. New pieces of this thrilling puzzle will be revealed each week, but TV Guide spoke to showrunner Tia Napolitano about the twists of the first two episodes and what lies ahead. 

By the end of the premiere we know that Kate is still alive, and by Episode 2 that we will be seeing things from her perspective as well. How are you going to balance telling this story from two different perspectives across three different time periods every week?
Tia Napolitano:
By the time you've seen the pilot and Episode 2, we will have revealed this device that our show is a two-hander. We very much tell one story from two sides of the story. We get to live in Jeannette's world, and within that POV, and we get to live in Kate's world and [see] Kate's POV. The show is sort of a search for the truth and I think showing two sides of the same truth is a really interesting way to do that. That makes you ask questions and pick a side maybe shift allegiances as you're watching. So it is a device that really serves our show and our story.

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Are you expecting there to be Team Jeanettes and Team Katies?
Napolitano: We've gone out of our way to try to not pit these two young women against each other. You know, it's 2021 and that seemed to be a very easy way to get the audience engaged, and instead, I think we'll have people sort of being on the side of one version of the truth or the other. It's very easy to like both of these girls, and it puts the audience in this difficult position of, "I want the truth and I don't see who the liar is." Yes, I think some people will gravitate more towards Kate, or more towards Jeanette just because they're very, very different young women, but I don't think that necessarily puts you against the other, if that makes any sense. It's a little bit more complicated than just Team Jeanette vs. Team Kate.

Is it easier or more difficult to tell a mystery story when the characters can't use cell phones?
Napolitano: It is so much easier to tell a story when they can't use their cell phone! The cell phone and the smartphone --  never mind the cell phone. The smartphone is just a mystery killer. It was so liberating to put people in these mysterious positions where they can't just Google it. They can't just call their friend or text their friend. No one is tracking Kate's GPS of where she's going to be because they can't do it. So people have to sort of organically, and by word of mouth, and with the police uncover truths or communicate with each other. It puts everything a little bit more in slow motion than it would be today and in that way can make for a much more satisfying mystery.

Chiara Aurelia and Olivia Holt, Cruel Summer

Chiara Aurelia and Olivia Holt, Cruel Summer

Freeform

Both girls are in very dark places at the end of Episode 2. Is there hope for redemption for either or both of them?
Napolitano: Seeing these two girls throughout three years, in '93, 94, and '95, there are opportunities for redemption in every year, maybe in a less expected way... but there is hope. There is evolution. It is aspirational. I mean Jeanette Turner is one of the most aspirational characters I've ever seen on TV. All she wants is to change, and to thrive, and to blossom into this beautiful flower sort of across all three years. And for Kate, once you've seen Episode 2 and you know that she's been to hell and back, I think we're all just hoping that she gets to the light at the end of the tunnel. We're teasing that we get there, in one way or another, and in a way that I think makes the show very enjoyable. There are bright spots in the darkness and some fun throughout the thriller aspect. 

This wouldn't be a YA drama without a love triangle and this is truly one of the most complicated ones I've ever seen. Can you talk about the difference between Jamie's relationship with Kate and his relationship with Jeanette, and how he's going to be torn between these two young women?
Napolitano: I think it's the most interesting complicated love triangle I've ever seen. Jamie dates both Kate and then Jeanette in earnest. He never two times anybody. Kate is pretty much given up for a runaway by the time he gets together with Jeanette, so I think he has two very pure, very earnest, relationships. I also think they're very different. Jamie and Kate dated in 1993, when the world was a little more simple. They were both at least a year younger [and] a year younger is a big leap in teen years. I think he and Jeanette have a little bit more of an adult relationship. We'll see those things complicate Jamie's journey and his feelings towards both of these young women as the series progresses -- the guilt and complicated feelings that young man wrestles with, who truly loved two women, I believe, across the span of two summers.

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Jeanette's mom (Sarah Drew) is present for the first two summers and then conspicuously absent in the '95 timeline. Obviously, we'll get answers going forward but what can you tease about what happened to Cindy Turner?
Napolitano: We will find out what happens to Jeanette's mom. It's something that we are driving towards. It's a mystery that we are teasing. It's very rooted in how complicated the relationship can be between a mother and a daughter. On a very basic level, just being a teen like Jeanette and having a mom like Cindy, who was a cheerleader and homecoming queen. If that's not complicated enough, throw in the rumors, throw in the accusations, and a small town, and that sort of takes this mother-daughter relationship and cranks the heat up to a 10. Yes, we will absolutely find out how that results in Cindy being not very present in Jeanette's story. 

What are you most excited for fans to see as they watch Cruel Summer?
Napolitano: Cruel Summer genuinely is a show I want to watch. What's appealing for me is, I love true crime. There's an element of that. We track what happened between Kate and Martin Harris, what happens between Kate and Jeanette on the news, almost like we're putting the pieces together in real-time like you're watching a crime show. I think that's very satisfying, but it's also a lot of fun. I think this ensemble of characters, these actors, Olivia Holt, and Chiara Aurelia -- to spend time with them is a joy...I think these are characters in a world you will have a fun time visiting every episode. Not to mention, if you're a fan of the '90s, the '90s music. We have had so much fun finding the tracks for this show, and working with our composers, who are brilliant and just being transported back to the sound of the '90s. It's a time machine and it's a lot of fun.

Cruel Summer continues Tuesdays at 9/8c on Freeform and streams the next day on Hulu