Cruel Summer is set to be the hottest show this year: here's everything you need to know

Cruel Summer is a twisted, time-twisting mystery that’s winning acclaim from fans and critics

Sarah Drew and Chiara Aurelia from Cruel Summer
(Image credit: Bill Matlock via Getty Images)

Cruel Summer first aired in the US in April and didn’t make much of an impression, but repeats and multi-platform offerings have helped the series find a whole new legion of fans.

The premiere of Cruel Summer is Freeform’s most-watched series debut ever, the cable network revealed, signaling the huge boost from multi-platform viewing.

The Disney-owned cable company says 3.81 million people watched the two-hour premiere in the seven days after its release, which is 15 times the size of its original April 20 premiere, which averaged just 246,000 viewers.

The show’s finally found its audience, so if you haven’t yet tuned in, here’s what you need to know about everyone’s latest obsession…

Cruel Summer Cast, where do I know them from?

Kate is played by actress Olivia Holt. Olivia is a former Disney star, and she's featured in Girl vs Monster and I Didn't Do It.

The talented 23-year old has also played the titular role of Tandy Dagger in the Freeform show Cloak and Dagger.

Jeanette is played by actress Chiara Aurelia. Chiara has appeared in much loved shows including The Brave, Tell Me Your Secrets and Pretty Little Liars.

Her biggest role to date is in Netflix's horror film Fear Street: Part Two - 1978.

What’s Cruel Summer about?

Cruel Summer is set over three consecutive years in the 1990s and delves into the complicated lives of teenage girls Jeanette Turner (Chiara Aurelia) and Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt).

Kate is the beautiful, blonde popular girl that everybody in school wants to be. So after she disappears the community is left in shock. However, for Jeanette, it spurs on a complete change—from the awkward shy girl into a confident, glamourous young woman.

The change, positive as it sounds, actually leads to a lot of negative attention from people around town. The story spans from 1993 to 1995 and over those three years, both girls find themselves entangled in a web of deceit and deception.

Former good girl Jeanette is accused of having a connection to the abduction of Kate. As the story is told from different perspectives, implications are felt by all those around them. 

The story takes a sinister look into friendship, trust, obsession, and popularity. 

Is Cruel Summer a true story?

Although the story itself is fictional, showrunner Tia Napolitano explained the inspiration behind the multiple perspectives in the show.

Speaking to TV Line she said, "We looked to women in the 90s who kind of got skewered in the media. We looked to Monica Lewinsky or Lorena Bobbitt…they were pure villains in the media." 

She added, "That’s it, one side to the story. With Cruel Summer, we get to live with these actual human beings and learn that the reality is much more of a gray area than just a black-and-white hero/villain story."

Where can I watch Cruel Summer?

The series, created by Freeform, first aired in the US on the channel on Freeform on April 20. Viewers in the UK can catch it on Amazon Prime.

Will there be a season 2 of Cruel Summer?

It’s been confirmed that there will be a second series of the show.

‘Renewing Cruel Summer for a Season 2 was an easy decision,’ Freeform President Tara Duncan said in a statement.

‘It’s the biggest series debut in Freeform’s history and the audience response has been overwhelmingly positive.’

Showrunner Tia added, ‘Collaborating with Iron Ocean, our dedicated crew, charismatic cast, and our partners at Freeform and eOne has been the best first show-running 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 2 is an absolute dream come true.’

Jack Slater
Freelance writer

Jack Slater is not the Last Action Hero, but that's what comes up first when you Google him. Preferring a much more sedentary life, Jack gets his thrills by covering news, entertainment, celebrity, film and culture for woman&home, and other digital publications.

Having written for various print and online publications—ranging from national syndicates to niche magazines—Jack has written about nearly everything there is to write about, covering LGBTQ+ news, celebrity features, TV and film scoops, reviewing the latest theatre shows lighting up London’s West End and the most pressing of SEO based stories.