The highly anticipated return of Freeform’s “Cruel Summer” is here, and it is packed with as much thrilling drama and suspenseful mystery as season one. Ahead of its premiere last week, the main trio of the anthology series’ second season sat down with The Cavalier Daily last month to talk transforming into Y2K teenagers, and the escapades of the first seven episodes.
Set in the picturesque Pacific Northwestern town of Chatham, the season follows the relationship between childhood best friends Megan Landry and Luke Chambers — played by Sadie Stanley and Griffin Gluck, respectfully — and the complications that arise when Isabella moves to town with a suitcase full of clothes and secrets. The season’s episodes follow the ups and downs of the trio’s relationship and how it is impacted by a murder that shocks their small town.
“I don't feel like any normal high schooler would be going through what these kids are going through,” Lexi Underwood, who plays foreign exchange student Isabella LaRue, said.
Jumping between three different timelines within the years of 1999 and 2000, the season’s arrival is perfectly timed, falling amid the resurgence of Y2K — year 2000 — aesthetics on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram.
“It wasn't really that hard to be able to kind of do our research and tap into those topics, that realm,” Underwood said.
Underwood said that the recent prominence of late 90s and early 2000s fashion allowed herself and the rest of the young cast to fully immerse themselves into that era of time.
“Every time that I put on one of Isabella's outfits, I kind of immediately felt as though I was emerging into that space,” Underwood said.
The daughter of foreign diplomats, Isabella comes to the United States in the hopes of living out the “All-American” high school experience she’s always wanted. Described by Underwood as a complex and layered character, Isabella's journey is one that encapsulates the unique and nuanced experience that is teenage girlhood.
“It's really interesting to be able to explore and navigate that relationship,” Underwood said. “Just what it means to be a young teenage girl, regardless of the generation or where you live or what your race is, just to be a young teenage girl trying to figure out life and going through these hardships.”
Isabella’s globetrotting history and outgoing nature enchant the residents of the town, but also serve to differentiate her from Megan.
Where Isabella is a carefree risk-taker, Megan plays by the book. A computer genius from a low-income family, it is Megan’s big dream to work in big tech that drives her actions throughout the season. Similarly to Isabella, the season’s twists and turns result in Megan going through her own emotional journey — one that leaves her physically unrecognizable between the summer of ‘99 and the summer of 2000.
“It's almost like getting to play three different characters, because my character Megan is so drastically different and going through different emotions in each timeline,” Stanley said. “That was intriguing to me, getting to do something a little bit grittier, a little bit deeper… it was exciting.”
It is because of Isabella that Megan becomes more adventurous throughout the season, gaining the confidence to take the chances she normally wouldn’t have dared to take. Because of this, the cast is in agreement that the friendship that blossoms between the two girls is the most compelling and intricate relationship within the show.
“I love to see a really strong, intense female friendship portrayed on the screen,” Stanley said. “We really dive into what that looks like to young people and how that can get super messy.”
One of the main sources of this messiness is both Megan and Isabella’s respective platonic and romantic relationships with Luke.
Belonging to the wealthiest and most prominent family in town, Luke’s character arc is different from Megan’s and Isabella’s because of his intense relationship with his arrogant brother and his powerful father. Throughout the season, he often finds himself caught between finding his own identity and conforming to the expectations of his family.
“Luke has a lot of issues,” Gluck said. “He's very damaged, but you don't really know that off the top when you first meet him.”
These hidden aspects of Luke’s identity are uncovered through the love triangle that develops. According to Gluck, the show’s depiction of his role in the triangle, a classic teen drama trope, is far from what audiences might be predicting.
“I feel like you rarely see [love triangles] from the kind of perspective that we show it from, it's not the typical love triangle story,” Gluck said.
He was adamant that the show’s take on the dynamic is more of an “intricate twist and turn” through high school relationships, rather than just a cliche case of two girls liking the same boy.
“It's more complicated than just, ‘Oh, I like this person,’” Gluck said. “It's like, oh, here's all of this history, and then there's this new element that's added… how does this new party affect that?”
Audiences can see how Isabella’s arrival, and the murder mystery that commences, unfold when new episodes of this scorching summer mystery air Monday nights at 10 on Freeform. All episodes are available for next-day streaming on Hulu.