By Radhika Sharma
New Delhi, Jul 29 (PTI) Setting a mystery series like "Cruel Summer" in the 1990s era presented many advantages says showrunner Tia Napolitano "as cellphones barely existed then".
Executive produced by Hollywood star Jessica Biel and her work partner Michelle Purple, "Cruel Summer" takes place over three summers in the '90s when a beautiful and popular teen, Kate, goes missing, and a seemingly unrelated girl Jeanette transforms from a sweet and awkward outlier to the most popular girl in town, eventually becoming the most despised person in America.
"The '90s was a really fun setting for the show. It has so many advantages for a mystery show because cellphones barely existed then. The Internet isn't what it is today. You couldn't text or track people.
"So that was a huge storytelling advantage. I think enough time has passed that there's a lot of nostalgia for the 90s. It feels like a fun-ner, simpler time," Napolitano, who also serves as executive producer on the series, told PTI in a Zoom interview.
Created by Bert V Royal, each episode of the teen psychological drama thriller focuses on the same day over the course of three years: 1993, 1994 and 1995. Episodes alternate between Jeanette and Kate's viewpoint to keep the viewer guessing about who is telling the truth.
Napolitano, whose credits include penning episodes of acclaimed Shonda Rhimes productions like "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal", said "Cruel Summer" gives "the microphone to teenage girls" to narrate their story.
"What really excited me about the project was the opportunity to tell the story of two young women, not just one, and to live in both of their worlds simultaneously... That was very appealing to me," the writer added.
The American show, shot in Dallas, Texas, is based in the fictional small town of Skylin in the Lone Star State, a setting, Napolitano said allowed the makers to "dial up the rumours and whispers".
"The small town seemed like a pressure cooker... Everybody knows everybody's business in a way that is very advantageous for storytelling. In addition to the media, it was another way to up the stakes, tension and keep the story going," she added.
"Cruel Summer" explores topical themes of representation, racism, gun violence and grooming and Napolitano said they were aware that they were making a show set in the '90s but which was to be viewed today.
"We wanted to tackle issues that are relevant to audiences today so that it comes down to representation, themes of grooming or gun violence. We wanted it to be a story that people were excited about watching today."
Like many shows, the production of "Cruel Summer" was also affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Napolitano said they shot the series during the pandemic which seemed challenging at first.
"We had safety protocols in place and everyone really was committed to getting the show done. Everyone involved with the show, the cast, the crew, rose to the occasion, which is something we are all really proud of."
The show has been green-lit for a second season and Napolitano said they are "still figuring" out the next chapter.
"We know that we want to keep similar themes. We talk about identity, we know that we want to continue being a psychological thriller. We are going to have non-linear storytelling and all other things that are part of the show's fabric," she added.
"Cruel Summer" stars Olivia Holt, Chiara Aurelia, Michael Landes, Froy Gutierrez, Harley Quinn Smith, Allius Barnes, Blake Lee, Brooklyn Sudano and Sarah Drew. Max Winkler has directed and executive produced the pilot.
It is set to start streaming on Amazon Prime Video in India and worldwide, except the US and Canada, from August 6. PTI RDS RDS BK