It’s a Cruel Summer in Dreary Second Season of The Summer I Turned Pretty

TV Reviews the summer I turned pretty
It’s a Cruel Summer in Dreary Second Season of The Summer I Turned Pretty

It’s no secret that book sequels and second seasons so often enter not with a bang, but with a whimper, as T.S. Eliot would say. These soon-to-be middle children are often the weakest of the bunch, fillers between surprise-hit first seasons and highly anticipated thirds. Season 2 of The Summer I Turned Pretty, which follows its knockout first season, falls prey to the curse of the second season.

 Based on the second book It’s Not Summer Without You in Jenny Han’s beloved YA trilogy, it was published in 2010, and, regrettably, as a fan of both the books and the show, this is very apparent in the latest batch of episodes. This undying loyalty to both the book’s premise and dialogue treads a treacherous line, one often hotly debated amongst book fans when their favorite stories get adapted for the screen.

 On one hand, it’s amazing how entrenched Han seems to be in the writing and production of her own book-to-screen adaptation, especially given how often authors have (rightfully!) lamented not being as involved in the adaptation process. But on the other hand, The Summer I Turned Pretty seems so devoted to using verbatim dialogue from the books, that it ultimately ends up sounding too dramatic, too emotional, and too… well, I hate to use this word, but it’s just too cringey.

 That being said, Lola Tung—who plays Belly Conklin, the main character stuck choosing between two brothers for her love interest—manages to relay this season’s tediously dramatic voiceovers and monologues with real heart behind them. Tung is so skilled in her delivery of the lines that it makes them that much less painful to listen to as the season progresses. She, along with Christopher Briney (Conrad Fisher), are the stand-outs of the long list of cast members—they are believable, even when their dialogue is not. Unfortunately, the others fall flat. 

I’m convinced Lola Tung could have chemistry with a rock; she’s that good. With both Conrad and Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno), a relationship with either brother can be easily imagined. Never mind that I’m always and forever Team Conrad; while Belly and Conrad have that sizzling underbelly of tension in their every interaction with each other, Belly also has some sweet moments with Jeremiah this season. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all Casalegno manages to bring to Jeremiah: a bland, boy-next-door vibe that too often falls to the wayside, his acting feeling more like a sequence of line readings rather than something with any actual heart in it.

Characters who were placed on the back burner in Season 1 are brought to the forefront for the latest installment of episodes, particularly Belly’s best friend, Taylor (Rain Spencer), and Belly’s older brother, Steven (Sean Kaufman). Spencer and Kaufman spend a good chunk of time together this season attempting to corral Belly and help her through a particularly tough time. The pair have great chemistry, and their dry, sarcastic senses of humor are welcome in a season otherwise lacking in the same buoyancy that Season 1 provided.

That, mixed with this season’s addition of heavy flashbacks, is a bit difficult to contend with, especially given that we are dumped into the near future within the first few minutes. While this season’s biggest event is easily discerned by piecing together (some pretty obvious) through lines, I found myself floundering. The writers were not generous in dropping hints or merging past-and-present storylines. Instead of more seamlessly weaving the flashbacks with the future so that the audience can easily follow along, we are not provided the full story of what happened in the “before times” until around Episode 4 or 5. Better actors might be able to better convey subtleties in the differences between past and present, but this show’s main concern has never been to garner critical acclaim.

The Summer I Turned Pretty has always been about Belly and the two boys she’s in love with; the books weren’t published to become literary classics, and everything is done in good fun. But a large problem for this season is that it isn’t fun, really at all—in stark contrast to its predecessor. The characters deal with a slew of problems, both internal and external, that force them to focus less on the fun, summer flings, the lazy days lounging by the pool, or casual bikes to watch the sunset at the beach at Cousins. Gone are the days of the drive-in movies, the debutante balls, and the fun parties filled with teens acting out in the way teens do, drunk and swinging jealous punches.

 Of course, nothing is fun all the time. Life certainly is not, and perhaps what The Summer I Turned Pretty does best is its representation of real life and real relationships. In a teen drama, the stakes are expected to be high, and the antics running amuck. Yet The Summer I Turned Pretty manages to toe the line, resulting in events that are the perfect mix of juicy drama to keep an audience enthralled. Sticky situations rife with miscommunication and angst-ridden love triangles are tired tropes, but somehow, this series pulls them off with some semblance of grace. The show is so over-the-top dramatic that its usage of them ends up working out in its favor.

As always, the best part about The Summer I Turned Pretty, ringing true for last season and this one, is the show’s skillful music moments. While I’m not allowed to reveal which songs play and at which moments, know there are some pleasant surprises and familiar voices mixed throughout. I want to meet whoever does this series’ soundtrack and sound editing and thank them for their service. Despite what I said earlier about this show not necessarily being one to garner critical acclaim, the musical moments alone deserve their own award.

While the first season was light, airy summer fun, Season 2 of The Summer I Turned Pretty just doesn’t feel the same. It’s not the summer show we all grasped hungrily at in our romance-starved grips last year. It’s more of wave-after-wave of angst, grief, and fighting, with happy moments too few and far between to make watching Season 2 nearly as enjoyable as the first. I miss last summer at Cousins, when the biggest thing we had to worry about was who, out of 3 contenders, Belly would choose to end up with. Luckily, I wasn’t alone; this summer was not like the last, and so while my time spent at Cousins Beach was not all sunshine and rainbows, it wasn’t fun for these characters either—it’s cold comfort, if any.

The Summer I Turned Pretty Season 2 premieres Friday, July 14th on Prime Video. 

Gillian Bennett is a writer and editor who has been featured in Strike Magazine, Her Campus, and now Paste Magazine. She enjoys watching copious reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and fantasizing about living in London. You can find more of her neverending inner monologue and online diary on her Twitter or her blog.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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