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"The Summer I Turned Pretty" Turned the Genre

As I am just days away from beginning my senior year at Clark University, I cling to the last moments of summer. And while the occasional extreme heat lingers due to the climate crisis, I clutch to a summer escape. What better way to disappear than with television? So for all of you TV fanatics and summer lovers, The Summer I Turn Pretty (2022-) is the series for you.

Like any good television series, the show expands the current norms and expectations of the genre––in this case–– The Teen Drama. As we all know, this genre is completely inflatable. (Please note the sarcastic undertones, I am being facetious.) Unfortunately, teen dramas are often filled with exclusively horrendous plot lines, unworthy character redemptions, unappealing writing, and awful acting. (I hope you appreciate my use of But, The Summer Turned Pretty defies these traits and adds new standards to the genre. The series does this by acknowledging mistakes, diversifying the characters and cast, and including the importance of friendships during adulthood.

From Parks & Recs to This Is Us, television shows depict adulthood friendships composed of young adults, coworkers, or family members. The Summer Turned Pretty demonstrates the importance of family friends/ and college friends who are now moms. These matriarchal families are led by best friends Laurel Park (Jackie Chung) and Susannah Fisher (Rachel Blanchard). Over the years, these moms raised their families together and even lived together over the summer at the Fisher country house. The moms actively parent their children throughout the show, a feat within the genre itself, but also sets new standards for television parents. It also instills the importance of family and expands the definition of who makes up a family. While the moms are role models for their children, they also represent a healthy decades-long friendship. As many teen dramas only show the shenanigans and drama that young companionship entails, long adult friendships are often neglected at large or built on an unhealthy foundation. Laurel and Susannah promote positive necessities for a long stable friendship: goofiness, respect, and loyalty. This positive example also stands for their children’s relationships with each other. While all four children make mistakes and, at times, treat each other poorly, their mothers raised them to love and care for each other before all else. In short, most teen drama genre friendships are based on clique culture, trauma, or both; The Summer I Turned Pretty conveys the dramatic plotlines through less excentric means. (NOTE: I could write an entire academic paper on why these positive relationships are slowly beginning to change the genre. But as this is not for educational purposes, and no professor will be reading this, I will digress to the importance of casual queerness.

As liberalism has slowly taken over television (thank god! #CancelLastManStanding), every character and your grandmother has a coming-out scene, or even worse, a movie or series. Now, please don’t misconstrue what I am saying. I believe there should be queer characters in media, but these characters should be more than a coming-out scene. For example, Love, Victor, and Happiest Season are coming out stories. Films and series lack casual queerness, where characters are complex and are more than just their sexuality. While the media is beginning to understand this, these characters are often THE minority, meaning that the characters have an intersectional monopoly on the portrayal of oppression. For example, there are countless queer white women or queer men of color in television, but there is rarely a queer frat-boy-esque character…until now. Jeremiah Fisher (Gavin Casalegno) happens to be bisexual, but his identity doesn’t start and end there. He is a brother, friend, in love, helpful, kind, and the best character in the show. He is visually crafted to be a moderate-straight-rich-white young man in America. Jeremiah defies this box as his actions convey liberal queer ideologies and overturn the negative associations of his identity into positive or undeserving stereotypes. Jeremiah is the first step toward new expectations for privileged men in media (that I hope trickles down into real life.)

Lastly, characters in teen dramas never shy away from mistakes, but they also generally never apologize or grow from these actions. TV shows at large paint these offenders as good characters by the end of the series. Just look at Chuck Bass and Lucas Scott: they are constantly redeemed despite their atrocious behavior towards women. While countless characters make mistakes throughout the first season of The Summer I Turned Pretty, Isabel “Belly" Conklin (Lola Tung), the protagonist, makes mistakes, acknowledges them and apologies, and grows from her errors. Belly and Lucas Scott (from One Tree Hill) make very similar mistakes, as they start off being introduced as eligible dating contenders. For Belly, this is an entirely new experience. The summer prior, she was a child, and she turned into an adult this summer. Belly was immediately flung into a sea of men without any prior experiences or advice. She, of course, handled the situation like any 15-year old girl would, poorly and in a permanent state of confusion. However, despite the mistakes, she apologized and tried to be better.

On the other hand, her love journey is similar to Lucas’, with slight variations. Lucas was always eligible and made similar mistakes when he first gained attention from the popular girls. While this is similar to Belly, he never learned from his first mistakes, flakily flip-flopping between two best friends. His actions evolve and worsen as the series continues (despite being portrayed as a good guy.) While Belly is currently apologizing and working towards learning from her mistakes, only time will tell if she turns into a Lucas Scott. Thankfully, Prime Video has renewed The Summer I Turned Pretty, so we’ll know… eventually.

Personally, this summer was the summer I turned smart. And one of the smartest things I’ve done was watch this show. I have seen too many teen dramas to admit and have rewatched almost as many, and I can wholeheartedly say that The Summer I Turned Pretty is the beginning of a new wave of teen dramas. This new direction will endorse equally dramatic plots can without being problematic, all while tackling important issues of time and representing the occasional positive relationship. Ultimately, The Summer I Turned Pretty has begun to rebrand the definition of a Teen Drama. Done so through the incorporation of casual queerness, a vast range of stable friendships, and the ability to learn from mistakes and actions.

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