They say in life, timing is everything. Sometimes you meet the perfect person, but the pieces just don’t align. Last season, Belly (Lola Tung) was at a place in her life where she could finally act on her lifelong, intense interest in Conrad Fisher (Christopher Briney), but he was in a dark place, having to wrestle with his father’s infidelity and the reality of Susannah’s (Rachel Blanchard) cancer coming back. He didn’t want to make summer miserable for everyone else, so he kept it to himself, until it wasn’t a secret anymore. With Susannah agreeing to go through experimental treatment, things were hopeful again, and Conrad felt he could reciprocate Belly’s affections for him.
And that’s where we ended things in Season 1, with the two professing feelings and sharing a lingering kiss on Cousins beach. However, it’s a messy situation, since Belly and his brother Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno) had kissed a bunch of times. How will he feel now that she wants to be with Conrad? I was wondering how the show would handle the love triangle, and how it would affect Belly’s relationship with both the Fisher brothers. To its credit, the show doesn’t take an easy path. Things aren’t swept under the carpet, feelings get hurt and relationships are torn apart. It feels undeniably human and real.
I’m sure many of us think Belly shouldn’t be getting herself into this situation, but the heart wants what it wants. She’s grown up with both these boys and loved each of them for most of her life, it’s hard to see how anyone else would compare. And Belly, bless her heart, does try to look elsewhere. However, it’s just not as easy with someone else as it is with either Conrad or Jeremiah. Despite that, anyone would be able to see that the show spends more time developing Belly’s relationship with Conrad. We’re privy to their numerous conversations on the phone, as well as their effortless banter and chemistry. Tung and Briney do an incredible job of making Belly and Conrad’s relationship feel utterly authentic, and seeing them together on screen is romantic TV at its finest.
The show’s focus, as was the case the previous season, has always been on Belly’s desires. It’s not about which man is better, it’s about who she wants. This season also involves Belly losing her virginity, which is done in such a heartachingly, beautiful manner. It honestly reminded me of Joey’s first time in Dawson’s Creek. We all know first times can be downright awkward, like how it was in this latest season of Never Have I Ever, but it’s also great to see the experience framed through the lens of a young woman’s desires and agency.
The Summer I Turned Pretty also lets the young people at the centre of things be young, vibrant and youthful. Some of the more memorable scenes this season involve Belly and the gang just having fun playing arcade games at the boardwalk. In these moments we get snapshots of all these relationships, and feel the years that connect these people together.
And of course I need to wax lyrical about the show’s soundtrack. As expected there’s a bunch of Taylor Swift songs, and also some of Olivia Rodrigo’s hits. But the most beautiful song used is Des’ree’s ‘I’m Kissing You’. I first heard that song in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, when the pair meet for the first time through a fish tank. It feels immensely nostalgic to hear it swirling through The Summer I Turned Pretty, especially when Briney kind of looks like a young Leo with his floppy hair and blue eyes.
Last season I complimented Briney’s performance. Conrad is such an introverted character, and keeps so much inside that it’s difficult to know what he’s feeling or going through, but Briney is able to articulate Conrad’s interior so acutely that it helps viewers understand him a little better. It’s the same thing again this season, and I will go as far as to say that his performance – and soul-deep chemistry with Tung – is what gives The Summer I Turned Pretty such emotional weight. If the character had been played by another actor, it would be easy to dismiss Conrad as a broody, emo boy who’s just toxic. When you’re young, it can feel like the weight of the world is on you, and it’s hard to keep things together when it feels like everything is falling apart. Briney helps us understand Conrad’s choices, even if we don’t agree with them.
Unfortunately, Jeremiah doesn’t get similar treatment. We know everything about Conrad, his aspirations, his character, why he loves Belly, but we know next to nothing about Jeremiah. Well, we do know he likes burgers and Ariana Grande, but I think we need a bit more than that if he’s meant to be a proper love interest. It’s strange because other characters like Steven (Sean Kaufman) and Taylor (Rain Spencer) get more character development than he does, when he’s supposed to be one of the main characters in the show.
Season 2, given the narrative it explores, is much darker in tone than Season 1. The show handles this shift well, showing us how each of the characters deal with grief, and truly capturing how volatile the entire experience is. In life we are rarely shielded from the bad stuff, and have to deal with dark times whether we want to or not. But the show doesn’t want us to look at life as something beyond our control. One of my favourite quotes this season involves Steven saying that the world isn’t just happening to us, we are also happening to the world.
The Summer I Turned Pretty acknowledges the mess that is a part of life and growing up, but we are nonetheless still in charge of our choices. So Belly makes a choice on who she should love. Is it the right one? She won’t know until it plays out.
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The Summer I Turned Pretty keeps things pretty much on par with season 1, developing relationships and taking on darker themes with nuance and complexity. It's basically snow on the beach - magical and melancholic, all at the same time.
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