Cruel Summer is Amazon Prime Video's binge-worthy mystery

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Streamer: Amazon Prime Video

Length: 10 x episodes (42-45 minutes each)

Score: 3.5/5

There’s a line in the song “Delivery Man”, by Aussie group The Cruel Sea, “It doesn’t matter what you do, doesn’t matter what you say, it’s all in the delivery.”

Why are we bringing up this catchy song from 1993? Because frontman Tex Perkins could well have been growling about Cruel Summer on Amazon Prime Video.

Jeanette Turner (Chiara Aurelia) and Jamie (Froy Gutierrez)
This particular summer isn't all that cruel for Jeanette Turner (Chiara Aurelia) and Jamie (Froy Gutierrez) but give it time... Picture: Amazon Prime Video

See, while Cruel Summer’s story is decent enough if a little familiar, its delivery is, at times, outstanding. It’s also set in the 90s over a shifting time period of three years, with each episode taking place over consecutive days.

Oh, and it splits the time between two main point of view characters, Jeanette Turner (Chiara Aurelia) and Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt).

We first meet Jeanette, on her 15th birthday, in 1993. She’s a dorky but affable teenager with a mouth full of braces and a heart brimming with joy. She’s also extremely obsessed with Kate Wallis, the popular girl, and Kate’s hunky boyfriend Jamie (Froy Gutierrez).

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In 1994, 16-year-old Jeanette has had a glow-up. Clear of skin, trendy of dress and she’s even dating Jamie! But where’s Kate? It seems the former queen of the high school has vanished without a trace and Jeanette, for all intents and purposes, has taken over her life.

In 1995, Jeanette has become a social pariah. Hair chopped short, skin sickly and she’s drinking too much. Kate is back and while we won’t spoil exactly what happened to her, she blames Jeanette for part of it.

But did Jeanette really do what Kate says? Or does Kate have an axe to grind?

Quite what the truth is, and who's to blame, unfolds over the course of ten episodes. Cruel Summer is a slow burn experience, but the constantly shifting timelines keep the intrigue feeling fresh and very compelling.

Joy Wallis (Andrea Anders) and Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt)
Joy Wallis (Andrea Anders) and Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt) appear to have the world by its tail... but appearances can be deceiving in Cruel Summer. Picture: Amazon Prime Video

The acting is also excellent. Chiara Aurelia is superb as Jeanette, imbuing her with so many layers and such depth. Olivia Holt is also great in a role that reads as much less sympathetic on paper, yet we come to understand she’s not just a one dimensional archetype.

Sure, she’s the popular girl, but there’s a genuine person in there, just one who has been fortunate… at least on the surface.

Set in the fictional Texan town of Skylin, the show does a great job of delivering a sense of place and time. And watching young people exist in a pre-social media age certainly provides moments of nostalgia for those of us old enough to remember that era!

It’s not always an easy watch, mind you. Some dark issues are explored here, including domestic abuse, self harm and child grooming. So if you’re looking for a light and bubbly experience, you should probably pick a season that’s a little less cruel.

Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt)
Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt) explores the great 90s institution known as a "video shop". Truly, they were the best of times, readers... Picture: Amazon Prime Video

If, however, you’re in the mood for something a little darker, Cruel Summer is a solid drama/mystery yarn that is delivered in a creative and imaginative fashion.

What could have been tawdry melodrama is elevated to intriguing mystery, and superb acting ensures that you’ll be captivated even as you’re feverishly trying to work out the truth.

The only dud note here is the show’s implication that 1993 was 28 years ago which is a FILTHY LIE and please stop saying such things LALALALALA we can’t hear you!

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