Amazon Prime

By venturing further into family conflicts, loss, and romance between characters, the second season of Amazon Prime’s “The Summer I Turned Pretty” greatly improves upon itself, but still can’t seem to rid itself of unnecessary plotlines, cringe-worthy dramatics, and excessive music choices. 

For those who aren’t familiar, “The Summer I Turned Pretty” follows Isabel “Belly” Conklin (Lola Tung) returning to Cousins Beach for the summer where she and her family share a beach house with Susannah Fisher (Rachel Blanchard) and her two sons, Conrad (Christopher Briney) and Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno). Belly has had an unrequited crush on Conrad for years, and things become complicated when Jeremiah suddenly decides he has feelings for Belly too—resulting in a choice between the two brothers. On top of the boy drama, we find out that Susannah’s cancer has returned and that she won’t live much longer. The show’s first season concludes with Belly choosing to be with Conrad after a summer full of mixed signals.

Season two picks up almost a year later, finding Belly’s relationship with both brothers strained in the wake of Sushannah’s passing in the spring. Susannah’s death is somewhat central to the season’s plot, but Belly can’t help but become distracted by the allure of her two suitors, which ultimately takes the main focus of the season. 

Though it might not sound nice, Belly is the kind of girl you and your friends would love to hate in high school. She’s a conventionally attractive junior who is convinced she’s the ugly duckling despite having several admirers. Of course, most of us can remember lacking self-awareness and being insecure in high school, but her refusal to acknowledge just how popular and desired she is radiates “pick me” energy. She possesses a je ne sais quoi that keeps the two brothers wrapped around her finger, but it’s unclear just what is so miraculous about her. On top of that, she’s painfully messy, and seems to bring drama wherever she goes. Her lack of awareness consistently causes incredible conflict between the two brothers and other characters—all of which makes you ask yourself, “Is she worth all this drama?”

Beyond Belly, each of the main characters are deeply flawed in their own way. Conrad is the classic angsty older brother that has a hard time articulating his feelings, and Jeremiah is the attention-starved younger brother that finds a way to blame everything on his sibling. In a heated argument late in the season, Jeremiah guilt trips his brother for attending college while their mother’s health declined. Low blows seem to be a natural part of any argument in Cousins Beach, with even Belly taking verbal swings at Conrad for pushing her away while grappling with his mom’s cancer. 

All of the character flaws make for a juicy watch, but as a viewer, you can’t help but shake your head in disappointment over just how below the belt many of the arguments are. Several of the actors—most noticeably Casalegno—seem to have improved their acting skills since season one, which enhances the plethora of dramatic exchanges throughout the season. But the foolish plotlines and ultimately corny one-liners hinder the opportunity to regularly show off many of the actors’ improvements. 

The introduction of newcomer Skye (Elsie Fisher), the return of “Cam Cameron” (David Lacono), and Belly’s volleyball aspirations are all given far too much screen time and do nothing but take away opportunities for further development of the main—and actually important—plot. The second season’s mid-season slump is filled with pointless scenarios all centering around these unimportant sub-plots that slow down the momentum of the story. The moments focused on Susannah’s cancer and the dissolution of Belly and Conrad’s relationship is what makes the show worthwhile, not Belly fretting over the upcoming volleyball training camp. 

When it comes to music, the show’s soundtrack is unfortunately just as messy and careless as Belly is. The first episode of season two opens with Tyler, The Creator’s “See You Again,” but abruptly cuts the song off after 30 seconds. The show manages to feature countless mainstream hits, but consistently fails to use them to the fullest potential. Olivia Rodrigo’s “driver’s license” is featured early on in the season, but similarly to “See You Again,” the song cuts off before the climax of the song. 

Season two unfortunately overloads viewers with hit song after hit song, creating an almost “too mainstream” compilation of music. In the finale alone, Beyoncé’s “XO,” Lana Del Rey’s “How to disappear,” Charli XCX’s “Claws,” and Dua Lipa’s “Love Again” are all packed in. For a show that is at times painfully unserious, Beyoncé’s “XO” feels entirely out of place and far too sophisticated to be featured. 

It’s no secret that creator and author of the franchise Jenny Han is a huge Swiftie, and her devotion for Taylor Swift is evidenced through the whopping nine songs included throughout the season. With an average of two Swift songs per episode, the frequent inclusion of her music actually lessens the impact of each. Swift’s intricately written songs are quite honestly “too good” for the show at times. The devastatingly brilliant ballad “Last Kiss” feels far too advanced of a song to be included in such a humorously over-dramatic scene between Belly and Jeremiah. 

But not all of the music included is comically out of place. The final episode of the season features two of the very best uses of Swift’s music. As Belly visits Susannah shortly before her passing, Swift’s “Bigger Than The Whole Sky” quietly permeates the background before taking center stage as the two characters exchange a final embrace. Shortly after, “Exile (feat. Bon Iver)” takes over as Conrad winds up “in exile,” seeing himself out of his relationship with Belly. The scene and song perfectly align to create one of the more poignant moments in Christopher Briney’s portrayal of Conrad. After a season’s worth of countless attempts to match the profoundness of Swift’s music, the finale’s use of these two songs finally achieves a noteworthy kind of storytelling.  

Set to a star-studded lineup of music, the misadventures of Belly Conklin make for an addicting watch, even despite the unavoidable ridiculousness. 

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