First Impression: Coming-of-Age Awkwardness, Friendship Troubles, and Love Triangles in The Summer I Turned Pretty

By: Valentina Doukeris
06/25/2022
en
Thumbnail courtesy of Amazon Prime

THIS ARTICLE CONTAINERS SPOILERS FOR SEASON ONE OF THE SUMMER I TURNED PRETTY.

Amazon Prime Video’s exclusive new series The Summer I Turned Pretty (2022) depicts the ups-and-downs of coming-of-age and following your heart when it comes to love, family, and friendship. The series follows 16-year-old protagonist Isabel “Belly” Conklin, her family, and her family friends, the Fishers, as she spends the first summer with them after her “glow up.” Throughout the show, which dropped on June 17, Belly learns to deal with her complicated emotions, a debutante ball, and her childhood friends’ newfound romantic interest in her. 

The Details

The Summer I Turned Pretty is adapted from the 2009 book series of the same name by Jenny Han and arrived on the heels of the To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018) film trilogy’s success. Han, co-showrunner for The Summer I Turned Pretty, made major changes to the story’s plot in the streaming adaptation. However, fans of the original novel will be happy to hear Han’s involvement in the process ensured that Belly is the same character, just written for 2022. 

A 2022 Take on the 2009 Hit

When Han released The Summer I Turned Pretty in 2009, popular culture, technology, and teenagers were, naturally, very different. Bringing the New York Times bestselling book series to the screen required giving it a modern makeover. That is, Han shared with Variety, introducing texting and social media to the script, as well as representing LGBTQ+ characters in the diverse cast. On top of that, Han added an entire debutante ball sub-plot that reflects Belly’s growth throughout the show.

Music and pop culture became one of the series’ major production components, which is noticeable in the show’s soundtrack. Songs by major stars like Ariana Grande, Olivia Rodrigo, and Jack Harlow help guide the story and mirror the characters’ thoughts and emotions in each episode. However, most importantly—and notably—is Taylor Swift’s presence, starting with This Love (Taylor’s Version) being used in the show’s trailer. Swift’s music highlights some of the key scenes from the series, reflecting Han’s own experience listening to the singer while writing the original novel.

Cast and Characters

The Summer I Turned Pretty features a diverse cast, with a few members—including the show’s lead—making their on-screen debuts in this project.

Lola Tung

Newcomer Lola Tung shines in her portrayal of main character Belly. Though this is her first major acting role, Tung realistically depicts the complexity of processing teenage emotions, dealing with first loves and crushes, first-time experiences with alcohol, and feeling like you don’t belong. It’s easy to relate to the awkward moments and small victories Belly experiences throughout her summer.

The NYC native told Teen Vogue that she’s been interested in acting since playing the Tin Man in a school musical in sixth grade. After studying drama in high school, she decided to pursue acting full-time. Tung’s experience as a 19-year-old teenage girl in the age of social media certainly aids her portrayal of 16-year-old Belly. But the show focuses on much more than just boy troubles, and Tung’s emotional performance when dealing with more complex issues is impressive.

Gavin Casalegno

Gavin Casalegno brings the flirty Jeremiah Fisher to life. In an interview with PopSugar, Casalegno shared that he and Jeremiah have so many similar qualities that he couldn’t pass up this opportunity—even though he was about to quit acting for real estate. Jeremiah is the youngest Fisher family member, and one of the show’s openly LGBTQ+ characters. Han wrote Jeremiah as a bisexual character for the adaptation, in contrast to his straight counterpart in the original book series. Through his interactions with other characters of various genders, Jeremiah explores his sexuality and romantic relationships, which is a major part of growing up and understanding oneself.

Christopher Briney

Christopher Briney plays Conrad Fisher, Jeremiah’s older brother and Belly’s childhood crush. Briney gives a spectacular, complex performance that constantly changes the viewer’s opinion of Conrad. At first, he is the brooding, gloomy older brother, seemingly unhappy with everything for no reason. As the story progresses and more layers of Conrad’s personality—and his feelings for Belly—are revealed, it becomes easier to understand the changes in his behavior. The Summer I Turned Pretty is Briney’s biggest role so far, with his previous experience including acting in the short films Want This and Under the Covers. He is also set to star in his first feature film role in Amazon Prime’s Dali Land (2022).

Sean Kaufman

Sean Kaufman, who plays Belly’s older brother Steven Conklin, has the perfect sibling chemistry with Tung. Kaufman is not new to acting, but The Summer I Turned Pretty is his biggest project thus far. Maybe it’s the two-year age difference, or maybe it’s pure talent, but Kaufman and Tung accurately depict both the friendly and hostile moments of sibling friendships. Like the rest of the cast, Steven is more complex than first impressions imply. Throughout the show, he struggles with feeling “good enough” for his girlfriend, Shayla (Minnie Mills), and the Fishers’ world, as the Conklins are seemingly the only family not as rich as the rest. 

More Than Just a Love Story

On the surface, The Summer I Turned Pretty is the story of a teenage girl deciding which of her childhood friends to give her heart to. While the love triangle plays a major part of the plot, the show tackles more complex issues as well. In contrast to the original book’s focus on Belly, Steven, and the Fisher brothers, the show also highlights their mothers’, Susannah Fisher (Rachel Blanchard) and Laurel Park (Jackie Chung), relationship. The two women have an unbreakable bond and navigate growing older, being independent mothers, and Susannah’s cancer diagnosis. 

The Summer I Turned Pretty further addresses the nuances of feeling like you belong, mental health, and friendships through various characters’ storylines. As the only boy who doesn’t come from wealth and one of the only people of color at the country club he works at, Steven juggles his authentic self and the self he wants to present. Conrad struggles with his mental health and the knowledge of his mother’s illness throughout the season; he broods, lashes out at family members, and even drinks irresponsibly. Belly, too, gets into arguments with both her best friend from home, Taylor (Rain Spencer), and her “big sister” for the debutante ball, Nicole (Summer Madison). Despite its romantic comedy label, the show appropriately addresses mature, sometimes emotional topics.

The Summer I Turned Pretty has already been renewed for a second season, meaning that viewers get to see these beloved characters’ journeys continue to unfold in the future.  

Enjoyed The Summer I Turned Pretty and need more binge-worthy shows this summer? Check out our list of K-drama recommendations for June here.

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