Cruel Summer is Freeform’s most-watched original series to date, and it’s another excellent installment. As the show moves back and forth in time through the 1990s, we learn more about what happened before Kate Wallis (Olivia Holt) was kidnapped. We also learn more about Jeanette Turner (Chiara Aurelia), who may have had something to do with it. Initially, Kate and Jeannette appear to be polar opposites in terms of their notoriety and personalities. Even so, as the plot progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult for the audience to tell who to believe.
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We learn more about their motivations for fighting in court and reclaiming their normal lives in episode 10, as well as the secrets and lies they’ve been telling each other. It’s never too late to watch other shows with a similar feel, so we’ve put together a list of the best shows like Cruel Summer to watch while you’re waiting for Season 2. Even though we’ve seen this type of dynamic on screen before, If you’re looking for drama, mystery, and a lot of suspense, the shows on the following list might be just what you’re looking for.
1. Little Fires Everywhere
If you watched Cruel Summer and then this Hulu series, you’ll feel a sense of déjà vu. Here’s why: Upon moving to “Shaker Heights,” Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood) rent an apartment owned by Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon), the model mother. As the Warrens and Richardsons mix, a slew of social issues, including race and motherhood, come to the surface.
Like Jeanette and Kate, Mia and Elena represent the polar opposites of one another. Mia lives a nomadic lifestyle and is widely regarded as the liberal mother figure, whereas Elena strictly adheres to social norms and rules. Even though they have opposing views, their tense relationship reveals that despite their differences, they are flawed individuals who strive to do what is best for their families.
The mother-daughter relationship between Izzie (Megan Stott) and Elena (Elena Anaya) will also remind you of Cruel Summer. As in Little Fires Everywhere, the close bond between Kate and her mother is shattered when she discovers her mother’s secret and confronts her about it. Once you see the comparison, it will all make sense.
2. Big Little Lies
This next recommendation has a sisterhood bond similar to that seen in Pretty Little Liars. Once again, an ensemble cast of Hollywood A-listers (Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, Reese Witherspoon and Zo Kravitz) star in Big Little Lies, a show about liars banding together. Moving to Monterey with her son Ziggy (Ian Armitage) and mother Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) is a harrowing experience because of the small-town school moms and their tumultuous lives. However, when someone is killed, everything changes because everyone in the group is now a suspect.
Season 2 of an HBO miniseries that was supposed to be a one-off ended up being released in 2017. Nothing about the ‘Monterey Five,’ each in their own way, was as it seemed. The most striking similarity between this story and Cruel Summer is the way in which outward appearances conceal the most disturbing truths. Much like Kate’s mother and friends in Cruel Summer, the women of Monterey try to project perfect lives while their inner lives are falling apart. A common theme among these shows is the mistreatment of women, how social pressures can turn people who might be allies against one another, and how their mystery is revealed through flashbacks that always seem to conceal as much truth as they reveal.
3. Pretty Little Liars
In Pretty Little Liars, the secrets and deceptions never end. When Alison (Sasha Pieterse), their leader and best friend, mysteriously vanishes, four friends investigate what happened to her. As they continue their investigation, they begin to receive anonymous text messages that warn that their most intimate secrets may be revealed.
When it first aired, Pretty Little Liars was a huge hit for Freeform, and the tone of the show is strikingly similar to that of Cruel Summer. There are many moments where Kate or Jeanette could be compared to either Spencer (Troian Bellisario), Hannah (Ashley Benson), Aria or Emily (Lucy Hale) (Shay Mitchell). There’s also the constant use of flashbacks in both shows, which provide viewers with crucial clues to help them solve the mystery at hand.
4. The Sinner
Jessica Biel is one of the producers of Cruel Summer, in case you didn’t know. Anthology crime series The Sinner, which she executive-produced and starred in, debuted with her. Each season is devoted to a different part of Detective Harry Ambrose’s investigation (Bill Pullman). Cora Tannetti (Biel) is the star of the first season, a woman who shoots and kills a man in cold blood on the beach and has no idea why she did it. We learn more and more about her past as the episode progresses, and the most surprising plot twist is saved until the very end.
While flashbacks aren’t necessary in Cruel Summer, they help the reader understand how and why the main characters behave as they do. The image of a cherished memory from the past can sometimes convey more about the future than words alone can.
5. Sharp Objects
Jeannette Turner and Kate Wallis both go through difficult times in their lives that alter their outlook on the world and how they conduct themselves. It’s the same thing that happens to Camille Preaker in Sharp Objects (Amy Adams). The HBO series, based on Gillian Flynn’s book of the same name, follows a reporter (Adams) who has just been released from a psychiatric hospital and returns to her hometown to investigate the murder of two girls. The more she digs into what happened to these girls, the more she discovers that their stories are intertwined with her own personal traumas from her childhood.
Camille will resemble Kate a year after her kidnapping in terms of her emo-like appearance and her lack of remorseful attitude. Camille is a fascinating and often unyielding character who, like Kate, had a tense relationship with her mother when she was an adolescent. Even though Sharp Objects is a bit darker and aimed at an older demographic, both shows explore the present by digging up the past for dark secrets. However, like Cruel Summer, this series is a real treat for fans of psychological thrillers and suspense fiction.
Another recently released series is now ready for your attention. It’s like The Hunger Games and The Society met in Prime Video’s new teen drama Panic. I’m curious, though, how this comparison relates to Cruel Summer? Keep calm and patient; we’ll get there. When 47 recent high school graduates are called to a competition, they are put through a series of dangerous ordeals designed to test their nerve control. As the rules evolve, competitors must reassess their willingness to sacrifice in order to win the $50,000 grand prize.
Similarly to the Cruel Summer trio from 1993, Heather (Olivia Scott Welch), Dodge (Mike Faist), Ray (Ray Nicholson) and the other Panic participants have to complete numerous dares. In the course of that summer, Jeanette and her closest friends decide to go against their better judgment and steal, date, and break into Martin’s house to prove a point (the latter led to a life-changing aftermath). In addition to the common theme of teenagers testing each other’s limits with increasing stakes, Panic is a show about how we exploit suffering for entertainment, challenging traditional tropes and preconceived notions of who the heroes are.
7. Veronica Mars
And now for something completely different to wrap things up. Kristen Bell was the star of Veronica Mars before she became the voice of Gossip Girl or went to The Good Place. As the lead character, she deals with the pressures of high school while also pursuing unsolved cases in the neighborhood. A new mystery is revealed in each episode, but Season 1 also follows Veronica as she investigates the death of Lily Kane, her best friend and the sister of her ex-boyfriend (Amanda Seyfried). Even Veronic’s exclusion from the “cool crowd” was turned upside down after her death because of his accusations that Jake Kane, Lily’s father, was involved in the murder.
For those who missed it the first time, let me give you a quick refresher. After Kate accuses Jeanette of knowing about the kidnapping, everything in Jeanette’s life changes. In addition to her breakup with Jamie Henson (Froy Gutierrez), her parents divorce, her father struggles to find work as a realtor, and her friends and family turn their backs on her. Was it obvious to you that she was somehow connected to Veronica? As with Cruel Summer, the characters follow a similar path in discovering a horrific truth hidden in the suburban ideal, and each new episode will keep you guessing until the very end.
However, despite being canceled too soon after its first three seasons in the early 2000s, the show generated such an enthusiastic fanbase and became one of the first major Kickstarter successes, which led to the 2014 sequel film and even a long-overdue (and extremely divisive) fourth season on Hulu in 2019.