Sunny summer? Cruel summer? They’re both here

Summer can be cruel, if you’re a TV viewer. Scripted shows fade; reruns and reality shows bloom.
And it can be either kind or cruel if you’re a teen-ager. That depends on which life you’re living – the one that soars through commercials and beach movies or the one that often lurks in real life.
Now both extremes exist in “Cruel Summer.” The show starts its second season (shown here) at 9 and 10 p.m. Monday (June 5) on Freeform, with new character and the same sort of scripted depth.
The setting is right out of a teen’s summer ideal. This is a fictional town, nestled along a lake. Read more…

Dark-and-creepy tale gets a fresh twist

If you’re building a dark and creepy tale, you really need a creepy, dark building.
The British prefer mansions, manor houses and castles; Americans prefer apartment houses that cater to the rich and fretful.
“There’s just something really sort of compelling about the idea of an apartment building,” said Emily Fox, showrunner of “The Watchful Eye,’ which debuts at 9 and 10 p.m. Monday (Jan. 30) on Freeform. “And the fact that it does contain so many stories and that all these people are so close … It’s our version of a castle.”
This could be “Only Murders in the Building” without the laughs, but Fox points to other inspirations – the apartment building in “Rosemary’s Baby” or the mansion in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca.” And then there’s what makes “Watchful Eye” stand apart: Unlike “a classic, Hitchcockian thriller, there is a very empowered female at the center,” Mariel Molino (shown here) said. Read more…

Teen conquers complex role

In rare moments, a master actor gets to play a double or triple role.
That includes comedy guys – Eddie Murphy, Jerry Lewis, Peter Sellers – and various Englishmen who become Jekyll and Hyde. And now, sort of, there’s Chiara Aurelia.
No, you probably haven’t heard of her. She’s 18 and has had some roles … five of them playing the younger version of a main character. But when “Cruel Summer” debuts (9 and 10 p.m. Tuesday, April 20, on Freeform), she has virtually a triple role – the same teen-ager (Jeanette, shown here, center, at the start), over three summers that transform her completely.
“Each year kind of represents a different element of all of our lives,” Aurelia told the Television Critics Association. “You know – the darkness, the sadness, the youthfulness.” Read more…

Everything’s okay for autistic actress

Last year, one of TV’s best characters arrived.
Matilda, 17, was confident (sometimes), quirky (always), talented and likable. She was also autistic.
And she was, apparently, authentic. Kayla Cromer (shown here), who plays her in “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” (10 p.m. Thursdays on Freeform, starting the second season April 8) is on the autism spectrum.
“I wasn’t coddled,” Cromer, 23, said by phone. And maybe she would have survived Matilda’s ordeal. Read more…

Freeform finds good drama in “Good Trouble”

Five years ago, a cable channel transformed – again..
It had been the Christian Broadcasting Network … then the Family Channel … then Fox Family … then ABC Family. Now it would be Freeform.
“’Freeform’ evokes a mood, a sense of spontaneity, creativity,” Tom Ascheim, the channel’s president, insisted. His channel would focus on “that place between childhood and adulthood, … between your first kiss and your first kid.”
That’s a tough target; Freeform has missed several times, but has hit the mark twice. On opposite coasts, those shows depict young people (likable and telegenic) starting careers amid personal chaos: Read more…

Social-distance drama? This one feels hopeful

It’s the kind of challenge writers and actors should savor: Create stories about isolation … filmed under isolated conditions.
There have already been some interesting ones, crafted during the COVID slowdown – episodes of “All Rise” and “Mythic Quest,” a reunion of “Parks and Recreation,” a British hour called “Isolation Stories.” Coming (Sept. 12 on HBO) is “Coastal Elites,” with playwright Paul Rudnick giving monologs to Sarah Paulson, Bette Midler, Dan Levy, Issa Rae and Kaitlyn Dever.
But before that, Freeform gets a chance. “Love in the Time of Corona” (shown here) is Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 22-23, then rerunning Monday, juggling four slightly related stories. It’s a tad predictable, but skillfully written and acted. It’s also optimistic; you could say it’s very American … or maybe very Californian. Read more…

“Okay” finds random joy in teen life

Leaping across continents, Josh Thomas has ignored TV’s assumptions.
American networks try to be relatable and universal and such. Instead, he’s turned his offbeat Australian teen years into sometimes-great TV.
“Teenage girls are like so funny to me, right?” Thomas said. “And I just really wanted to write a teenage girl.”
He’s written a lot of them– led by Kaylan Cromer, shown here — for “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay.” And in the next episode (Feb. 20), they converge in wonderfully odd ways. Read more…