Cruel Summer is Freeform’s latest teen thriller, and it’s a surprisingly excellent series that transports viewers back to the ’90s for its core mystery. Starring Olivia Holt and Chiara Aurelia, this compelling and addictive psychological show focus on the kidnapping of Queen Bee-type Kate Wallis (Holt) and her allegations that outcast Jeanette Turner (Aurelia) saw her in captivity and refused to help her, lest she give up her new popularity in Kate’s absence.
The show is already four episodes in, and fans are eager for any tidbits or hints about what really happened between Kate and Jeanette. The story bounces around in time, ranging from 1993 to 1995 and at the start of every episode is a black title card that says something like, “the events that are about to unfold take place on approximately…” and then list a specific date across those three years.
Given that intro, it’s easy to see why people might believe that the story being told in Cruel Summer is based on something that happened in real life. There is no shortage of teens being kidnapped and girls going missing, after all. If you’re a true crime junkie, your first thought was probably that this series reminded you of some case or other.
So, is Cruel Summer based on a true story, or is it all fiction?
Despite the cryptic opening and the set-up, Cruel Summer is not based on a true story. The town where the show is set, Skylin, Texas, is completely fictional, as are all of the characters. But according to Good Housekeeping, writer and producer Bert V. Royal (who also wrote Easy A) told Deadline about how he did use real-world experiences to write the screenplay for the series.
Royal said that they were really interested in approaching a story that could “spark interesting conversations about how our society can upend a person’s life and send them to the hell of infamy before, and sometimes even despite, the facts.”
Interestingly, Cruel Summer isn’t even based on a book or anything, like many psychological mysteries today are. Executive producer Jessica Biel even starred in and produced the popular USA Network crime drama The Sinner, which was actually based on a book.
I guess the good thing is that we know the storyline playing out in Cruel Summer didn’t actually happen to some poor girl in real life, at least not this exact story.
New episodes of Cruel Summer air Tuesday nights at 10:00 p.m. EST on Freeform.