By Jaime Jo Wright, Crosswalk.com
The Summer I Turned Pretty is out and streaming, with a full season 2 available for free on Prime. If you’ve watched season one, you’re probably already almost through, if not finished, with season two because the show is addictive, and it’s difficult to wait from episode to episode to see what will transpire next.
So let’s break it down because it’s a show that has genius writing skills behind it. These skills make it a show that sucks in not just your teenager but also women and is challenging to get out of your mind because you become so attached to the characters, their complex relationships, and the trials of growing up as well as being a grown-up.
In reality, the pros to allowing your teenager or pre-teen to watch this show are minimal. Being bluntly honest, regardless of great writing, relatable actors, angsty teenage drama, and beautiful, atmospheric summer settings, there isn’t much redeemable in the show.
But for the sake of argument—and keep in mind, I’m a pretty liberal parent when it comes to content with my teenager—let me try to squeeze out the positives from this spongy teenage soap opera.
There is no question that relationships are literally the show's plot. That being said, there are some positives when it comes to recognizing the relationships that have carried you from childhood into who you are today. The value of that friendship is portrayed (if not always honored), and the viewer comes away with a realization that long-term friendships are something to be treasured and protected.
There is also a thread of sticking by your friend during remarkably difficult times—probably portrayed more through the parents' lives in this specific show than the teenagers. The show does a great job of paralleling the dynamics of what they envision teenage friendships as and the foundation they may/could be for adult friendships decades later.
We relate to these early years of friendships portrayed in this show and our hopes that they would last forever. We see the future as we watch the relationship between the characters’ mothers (specifically), who struggle through strife, trial, grief, and joy to stick together. Because of this parallel, I argue that’s one reason why the show hits a chord not just with teens but women as well.
If there are any positive portrayals of spirituality, I probably missed them. This show, for the most part, steers away from the spiritual elements of faith of any kind into a rather agnostic view of life. Without giving much away, the characters are all dealing with rather intense issues in their lives, and they find a myriad of ways to cope with them, but there is no clear spiritual agenda in this show—negative or positive—to comment on.
There is so much fun to be had in The Summer I Turned Pretty. Debutante balls, tomboys turned beautiful, parties, beaches, boats, family outings, water fights, and more. It’s an idyllic setting for anyone to come into their own, and teens will be drawn to the subtle glamour of the aesthetic.
The characters—both wealthy and middle-income families—will be relatable. Because of their emotional journeys, we’re less involved in the rich/poor caste system and more into the scenes and circumstances.
Granted, let’s be honest; I cannot recall a single realistic episode that exampled my teenage years. Even the beach parties are beautifully composed with the perfect bonfires, teenage style, and the ambiance of the ocean beyond. I got ponds, frogs croaking, and, if lucky, burnt marshmallows.
So for fun stuff? Yeah, there’s a lot going on in The Summer I Turned Pretty.
So let’s get down to it,= because, I’ll be honest, writing the pros was a bit difficult. Here are the cons.
Relationships. Where does one start? Season 1 decides for you and brings into your view “Belly” (short for “Isabelle”), who is coming into her own in the companionship of her brother and two male best friends she’s known since childhood. Almost instantly, in episode 1, you’re barraged with her eons-long crush on Conrad and her remarkably close friendship with his younger brother Jeremiah.
Let’s first make the distinction that this is the obvious starting point for the drama and angst that will grip a teenage viewer from season one to season two: who does Belly end up with?
In short, a lot of relationship ping-pong goes on between Season 1 and Season 2. Parents should know that relationships are not put into the perspective of healthy friendships based on mutual respect, accountability, and even responsibility. Instead, you enter into the world of true angsty relationships based primarily on physical attraction, chemistry, the dopamine rush of drama and scandal, and the unspoken but underlying question of “Who will Belly lose her virginity to.” (In case you’re wondering, that question is answered, and yes, she does lose her virginity)
Let’s remove Christian morality from the picture for just a moment, to make an unquestionably strong argument that Prime should be taken to task by parents for encouraging underage drinking and alcoholism as well as illegal drug use among minors. Somehow, this is portrayed as normal teenage behavior—perhaps under the umbrella of experimentation? — but in the show, it is even done with the knowledge of parental influences and without much consequence. One gets the feeling the show's writers decided all teenagers will dabble. Therefore, there is no point in ignoring what is just a normal part of their lives. Insert teenager poolside with a joint, and you have a “normal” summer activity for teens—according to The Summer I Turned Pretty.
Back to morality: sexual undertones are rife throughout. It really does come down to the question of when Belly will sleep with one of the brothers—or both? With one of the brothers being sexually fluid, we even get to step into the lives of teenagers who want to test the waters of both genders.
As for nudity, it’s minor and tastefully done—as tasteful as teen sex can be done. I do have another eyebrow-raising topic for consideration regarding the sexual content, as one character seems “of adult age” (is it clarified—not 100% certain), and the other is still obviously a minor. In the real world, that comes with its own set of legal issues we don’t really need to cover here.
Be prepared to hear the sailors’ dictionary on this show. There’s really no need to list out the litany of cuss words used and the normalcy with which they’re infused into everyday conversation.
I could go on. Here’s the sticky wicket: The show is good. It’s addictive. It’s interesting. It feeds into what so many look for in dramatic entertainment. There are cliffhangers, pretty people, sizzling romance, heartbreaking drama, fun and laughter, hits and blows. So let’s be forthright; it’s a well-written show, with good acting and expert storytelling.
From a moral standpoint, it will glorify everything you don’t want your teenager to be dabbling in over their summer. At the risk of sounding old-fashioned and narrow-minded, I will add that even if you’re not faith-based or morally “uptight,” if your teenager is going to hang poolside, date, and make out with their significant others, you will still prefer a set of guidelines. As in, I’m going to take a leap and assume most of us are on the same page when it comes to unprotected and impulsive sexual encounters, drug experimentation, and regular consumption of alcoholic beverages.
From a spiritual perspective, it will undermine everything you’ve ever taught your child about relationships founded on faith and a relationship with the Lord. Instead of seeking deep friendships, relationships that can be carved into the solid formation of principle and integrity and respect and honoring not only the Lord but themselves by their actions, it will argue strongly and make a very glamorized point that the latter is all boring and lackluster.
Last, but not least, let’s address the elephant in the room—the show’s title. The Summer I Turned Pretty. If your teenage daughter hasn’t turned “pretty” yet—or doesn’t believe they ever will—this show will be proof in the pudding that their value is only going to awaken interest from the opposite sex once they cross into the “pretty” zone. So, in short, if you have an ugly daughter, you’re probably safe. None of this will ever happen to her because if she’s not pretty, she’s not worth investing in.
If that’s the message you want for your teenagers? Then absolutely. I highly recommend The Summer I Turned Pretty. But for my daughter? I’ve already chatted with her about this, and to my delight, she decided it wasn’t worth her time. Remember, discuss it with your kids so they understand the concern. It will go a long way with their trust in you and their Lord.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Brothers91
Jaime Jo Wright is an ECPA and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author. Her novel “The House on Foster Hill” won the prestigious Christy Award and she continues to publish Gothic thrillers for the inspirational market. Jaime Jo resides in the woods of Wisconsin, lives in dreamland, exists in reality, and invites you to join her adventures at jaimewrightbooks.com and at her podcast madlitmusings.com where she discusses the deeper issues of story and faith with fellow authors.