The Summer I Turned Pretty (2022-)

Published on 26 August 2023 at 22:30

As a preface, the media I choose to write about on here isn’t because I find it prolific and hard-hitting. I write about something because I have something to say. “The Summer I Turned Pretty” (TSITP) is a fun, albeit juvenile TV show on Amazon Prime. While the show centers its marketing around the controversial love triangle between a 16-year-old-girl and the sons of her mother’s college best friend, there is something to say about grief, particularly in conjunction with a girl’s coming-of-age journey. (I also really love delving into things that maybe aren’t meant to be analyzed in depth, just for the sake of doing so.) And yes, there will be some spoilers discussed, as I will talk about a few major plot points, so please proceed with caution.

Belly. That’s her name. Belly. Not Bella, not Bells (they do call her this consistently, although it’s not her name), not even spelled Belli or Bellie. Belly. That’s our main character. And while she gets on my nerves, I appreciate what she represents, and the purposefulness of her character arc. She’s immature in a sweet, naïve sort of way. By season 2, the audience is immediately presented with a different Belly as she grapples with her family friend, Susannah’s, death. She is objectively a “worse” person in season 2, which is justifiable in the sense that her selfishness and lack of flexibility is due to the grief that she does not know how to properly redirect and express. For a young teenage girl whose role model died so tragically, she’s left to finish her teenage years feeling somewhat alienated, as she is depicted as having a complicated and misunderstanding relationship with her mother. This in turn is also very telling of the coming-of-age experience for many young girls specifically, especially in our generation, whose mothers are suffering the effects of changed generational values. While Taylor Swift plays in a lot of the cute scenes between Belly and either Jeremiah or Conrad (whichever is the flavor of the episode), her relationship with Laurel certainly deserves Mitski. The dialogue is, like most teenage-oriented pieces of media, quite cheesy. But I find it, alongside the characters, to be far more relatable than other comparable shows and movies. In general, it’s a fun, lighthearted, decently-entertaining show, with enough attention to detail that viewers are engaged.

 

Belly has always been “in love” with Conrad, her childhood crush. But Jeremiah, her best friend since adolescence, has apparently always been waiting for her to come around to him. Now that she’s older, puberty gave her an upped cup size, they’re closing in on her. And Belly, who was supposedly “ugly” in her youth, finds herself caught in a loop of bouncing between her two options, with strong feelings for both boys.

So if you’ve noticed, I put two phrases in quotations, and I’ll address both.

  1. I have a hard time believing that Belly has been “in love” with Conrad. I believe that by the time she’s got him and they’ve dated, she loved him. I have no qualms in believing that she’s loved him before. I just simply don’t believe she’s loved him as long as she claims, although I believe that she thinks she did. Her prefrontal cortex was still developing, and is still developing as she enters early adulthood. When you’re eight, I don’t believe you know what love feels like beyond familial, and even that type of love isn’t comprehended, just inherited. When you’re thirteen, you grasp attraction and like, but the permanence of love and depth of its reach is nearly incomprehensible. When you’re sixteen, I believe you can love, but it won’t be the way you love when you’re eighteen. When you’re twenty five. When you’re forty. When you’ve loved before, and you’re loving again.

So in my mind, Belly’s infatuation with Conrad brought her to loving him as she’s grown up, although the swift change between infatuation and love was a part of their failure. To have a vision of someone and to secretly find it unrealistic to happen is exciting. It’s a drug. And when you’ve got the person, and you’re faced with the reality, it can be startling. Love is based in reality. And both Belly and Conrad wanted to escape reality, as neither could digest the misery they feel following Beck’s death.

  1. She’s not ugly, nor was she ever ugly. TSITP just wanted to pull one of those “she was awkward with glasses and braces, and now she’s not” moments.

In terms of the love triangle, I feel that Jeremiah, while offering the reality she knows she wants, plays second fiddle to what she knows she could have with Conrad. I even think she’s aware of this fact. They are both attractive and have a palpable sense of physical chemistry together, but logically, they are not suited to be together. Even if they DID make more sense with the established characterization, it seems painfully obvious how the show wants to frame “Bonrad” as the focal couple, whereas “Jelly” is just a distraction. I know there are plenty fans of Jelly that would love to argue with me, and I welcome it, since I’m not particularly attached to any of the couples. (I find all characters in this love triangle decently likeable, but not one more notable than another.)

I care about Staylor.

Taylor might be my favorite character in the series. While she wasn’t horrible in season 1, she was triggering. She was an immaculate reflection of what many toxic best friends in high school look like. She cared about Belly, and she cared about their friendship, but her lack of self-confidence and situational awareness made her a horrible friend. She was a lot like my own best friend I’d had in high school that I ultimately had to cut off my senior year when I realized she brought out the worst in me, as we fed into each other’s insecurities. By season 2, however, Taylor had shown a lot of maturation and growth, which made sense given she was helping Belly through her grieving process, and the time jump to a year in the future promised room for her to work through her issues.

I always loved Steven, even though he was a classic immature teenage boy to Taylor’s immature teenage girl role in season 1. Sure, I always found him cute, but his insecurities manifested in a different way than Taylor's, reflective of the difference in ways that girls and boys process their troubles through adolescence. He was obnoxious and projected the image of who he wanted to be, to compensate for what he knew he lacked. And by season 2, we see that Susannah’s grief gave him the lead way to feel far more responsible and ready for accountability before going away to college. The direction of their arcs are quite complementary, and frankly they’re just very physically appealing as a couple.

In terms of the end of season 2, I was incredibly underwhelmed. I’ve seen some people exclaim how they hated the tone of season 2, and the turn of the show, but I disagree. I feel the show was fated to have this darker, nostalgic feel, as season 1 had gently built us to this point. It never made sense for Susannah to survive, as the point of season 1 was that it was their last summer all together. I loved season 2, and how melodramatic it became. So with the end of every episode leaving me agape, I was not surprised that she ended (momentarily) with Jeremiah, the way the episode unfolded was painfully mediocre. Perhaps it was meant to feel like the calm before the storm.

Once season 3 comes out, there WILL be updates to this blog post.

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