Prime Video's New Must-Watch Show Is an Edgier ‘To All the Boys I've Loved Before’
Less than five minutes into the first episode of The Summer I Turned Pretty, 16-year-old Belly is channeling her inner James Corden as she belts out the lyrics to Kim Petras's "Can't Do Better" in her family's minivan. Meanwhile, her brother, Steven, gives her a few awkward side glances as he makes the drive up to Cousins Beach—a longstanding family tradition that's been around since before she was born. Sitting quietly in the back seat is their mom, Laurel, who, despite not being a fan of the loud music, can't help but smile at her daughter's silly antics.
It's not the most significant scene in the series, but it already paints a fascinating portrait of the small family. Belly being the bubbly, high-spirited girl, her mom being the reserved matriarch and her brother being the protective leader. But throughout the rest of this first episode, it's the lovable Belly who takes center stage. For those who aren't familiar with the new Prime Video series, which just dropped today (and got renewed for season two!), it's inspired by Jenny Han's book series of the same name. The show follows Isabel (Lola Tung), better known as Belly, as she visits her family friends' beach house and gets roped into a complicated love triangle with Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno) and Conrad (Christopher Briney), who also happen to be brothers.
As fans of Han's would expect, The Summer I Turned Pretty is lighthearted YA escapism at its finest, complete with a compelling cast. And though the first episode hints that the series will balance these feel-good moments with controversial themes that go beyond romance and friendship, there's an overall warmth and innocence to this show that makes it feel wholesome—much like Han's Netflix adaptation, To All the Boys I've Loved Before.
Not surprisingly, there's no shortage of familiar tropes in this series, from Belly's magical "transformation" (AKA removing her glasses and braces) to her harboring a major crush on her childhood BFF, Conrad. But somehow, none of this takes away from the show's appeal. If anything, it actually adds charm, which is a testament to Han's unique ability to spin familiar concepts in a way that doesn't feel stale or cheesy, but genuine. For instance, when Bella and her family make it to the beach house, there's a moment when Conrad steps out and locks eyes with her and, naturally, sparks fly. But rather than greeting Belly with an overly poetic line from a Hallmark card, he says, "I liked you better with glasses." And Belly's comeback? "Too bad, I like me better without them."
Aside from the show's refreshing approach to common clichés, there's also Laurel (Jackie Chung), who easily stands out as the loving single mom and middle-aged writer who isn't afraid to speak her mind. Chung delivers a layered performance, balancing her duties as the no-nonsense parent with being a frustrated writer whose work is often overlooked. She also appears to have a rather complicated relationship with Belly, and it's revealed that she divorced her husband over a year ago, so one can't help but wonder about her backstory. But she isn't the only one who's working through personal issues.
There's also Conrad, a former football player who apparently morphed into a glum shadow of himself that Belly no longer recognizes. And then there's his mother and Laurel's BFF, Susannah (Rachel Blanchard), the beach house owner who's been hiding a mysterious secret.
All in all, the first episode succeeds at setting the tone, reeling viewers in with sweet, heart-warming moments, catchy modern tunes and a sprinkle of drama to keep the fans invested—even if they haven't read any of the books. But here's hoping that the rest of the series continues to hold up by diving a bit deeper into these fascinating main characters, rather than focusing solely on Belly's changing looks and romantic pursuits.
PureWow Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The Summer I Turned Pretty follows the YA romance formula to a T, but still manages to feel fresh with a charming cast and just enough drama to keep viewers watching. Fans of To All the Boys I've Loved Before are in for a treat with this one.
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