A mediocre teen romance with memorable moments, but overall doesn’t quite sit right, with its toxic obsession over image and the upper-class elite.
This review of the Amazon original series The Summer I Turned Pretty season 1 does not contain any major spoilers. The series will be released on June 17th, 2022.
With a title like this, you can expect image to play a major role in proceedings, but what is shocking about this latest teen drama, from Amazon Prime Video, is the fact that the show has absolutely no desire in addressing the negative aspects of body image or for that matter, sees any need in teaching their cast of teens any actual lessons. Thankfully as the series progresses this obsession over appearance takes a slight backseat and the drama is allowed to unfold more freely. What you are left with is a mediocre, if watchable, coming-of-age romantic drama that looks set to be a mega hit for the streaming service.
The narrative focuses on fifteen-year-old Belly, who over the last year has transformed from a dorky, ‘spectacled’ child into a blossoming young woman (minus the glasses). As she has grown up, others have noticed her changed appearance, with everyone from friends and family all the way to random strangers complimenting Belly on her appearance. This new look brings about new confidence and she hopes to catch the eye of her first crush, Conrad, this summer. See, Belly’s family spend every summer vacating at Cousins Beach at Susannah’s summer house with Susannah (Belly’s mother’s best friend) and her two sons: Conrad and Jeremiah.
This tradition has brought the two families closer together, but this summer Conrad seems distant and the other boys (Jeremiah and Belly’s brother Steven) have acquired summer jobs, leaving Belly all alone. Susannah suggests she signs up for the debutante ball and the teen accepts, journeying into another world obsessed with image and status. Susannah splashes the cash on a new wardrobe of dresses for the teen starlet and Belly acclimatizes to the debutante etiquette, whilst making friends with all the other spoilt brats. Cue endless parties and of course plenty of turbulent teen romance for poor Belly to endure.
Our protagonist, Belly, finds herself caught in a precarious love triangle, with both brothers (Conrad and Jeremiah) competing for her attention and that all-important invitation to the debutante ball. Her road to finding true love is a rocky one, with many ups and downs. The romance itself is as clichéd and predictable as you’d expect, but remember, I’m not the target audience here. Fans of the book and a whole generation of adolescents will lap this series up, thanks to the romanticized teen fantasy storyline, the perfectly sculpted cast members and its pop-heavy soundtrack (Taylor Swift must be raking it in).
As the season progresses through its seven episode stretch, there is room for a heart-breaking subplot, which at first seems offensively forced, yet eventually harvests some raw emotion, leading to a dramatic, touching finale. Fans of the novel will be well aware of this emotive twist and pleased to hear that the show-runners handle this segment respectfully. The filmmakers manage to elicit some genuine tension in those powerful final episodes and there may even be some fleeting self-reflection from one or two characters. Other topics aren’t given the same careful attention though and feel shoehorned in, with the writers unsure how to tackle race or sexuality. This pandering is a far cry from the splendor of genre titans Love, Victor or Sex Education, after all.
In conclusion, this is a mixed bag of a series that scrapes the barrel of mediocrity for the most part, although it has its moments overall. Normally I would define these types of safe romantic pieces as innocent and harmless in their execution, but the morally problematic subject matter on display here pushes this show into perilous territory. Teen dramas aren’t required by law to represent all minority groups or address pressing social issues of our time, but by promoting this obsession over appearance they are backing themselves into a corner. Thousands of impressionable individuals will watch this show and I feel streaming giants like Amazon should do more to battle this social media-influenced obsession over image and status. The Summer I Turned Pretty leans into this dangerous perfectionism instead of challenging these unrealistic standards.
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