Oliver Twist’s Artful Dodger isn’t 13 anymore: He’s an adult. And being an adult comes with more grown-up problems.
The summer sun. Splashing around in the ocean. Sparking a new romance. Enjoying a beer or three. What could go wrong?
Plenty, as it turns out.
Belly has always loved spending her summers with the Fishers in Cousins Beach. But everything has changed. Starting with Belly herself. She’s all grown up. Or, at least she seems to be.
And that means the dynamic with the two Fisher boys has changed dramatically, too.
For years, the three of them—Belly, Conrad Fisher and younger brother Jeremiah—were just the bestest of friends. But in Season One, those friendships became a knotty (and naughty) love triangle, leading to all manner of smooching and deep conversations and anger and heartbreak.
All that teen angst was anchored to something a little more secure, though: the Fisher’s beach house. Susannah, the boys’ mother, had kept the place a sort of sanctuary for years and made it, Belly always thought, into something magical.
But Susannah’s dead by the beginning of Season Two after succumbing to cancer. Belly’s relationship with both Fisher boys is as rocky as the coast of Maine. And the house itself is imperiled.
Before Susannah died, she sat down with Belly, and the two talked about their mutual love of the Cousins beach house. “You love this place the same way I do,” Susannah told her. “If anyone can keep the magic going here, it’s you. You’re my special girl.”
But given all the drama in play—and the fact that Belly doesn’t exactly have a spare million dollars or two to keep the property—Belly needs more than magic. She might need a miracle.
The Summer I Turned Pretty, based on a trilogy of bestsellers by Jenny Han, spins on über-dramatic teen romance and angst. The stakes are high. And, thanks to the joys of late adolescence, they feel even higher. If kisses and glowers and brooding and tears could be converted into cold, hard cash (and for Han, they certainly have been), Belly could probably buy not just the beach house, but the whole of Cousins Beach.
This Outer Banks–style romantic dramedy is set to a soundtrack full of Taylor Swift, Lizzo, and Olivia Rodrigo’s most popular songs. The friendships, romances, and family relationships are fun and well-written but full of problematic drama.
The characters are rarely all sober at once, and coarse language (including the f- and s-word) abounds. The only senses of morality discussed are loyalty and responsibility, both of which are still executed questionably at best. The show includes several LGBT characters (including a major nonbinary character introduced for Season Two that wasn’t a part of any of the books), and characters certainly don’t flinch at sexual intimacy.
Belly can’t figure herself out, which is a relatable issue for many teen girls. And her story can be heartwarming at times, funny, and romantic. But it also needlessly includes adult content and language that depict a false world where consequences almost never make an appearance.
The Cousins’ beach house might be saved. But collectively, relationships are a mess. Again. In the aftermath of Conrad seeing Jeremiah and Belly kiss, the three of them must drive home from Brown together. And when a storm sweeps through the area, the trio is forced to spend the night in a hotel room. Meanwhile, Steven and Taylor have a very awkward first date; Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, Milo, records an entire diss album dedicated to Steven; and Lauren (Belly and Steven’s mom) takes part in a writer’s reading group.
Let’s start with Lauren. When Steven says that a week’s worth of goofing off won’t do him any good at Princeton (where he’s heading in the fall), Lauren says, that he should be goofing off “getting drunk, and lying to your mom, and hanging out with your girlfriend and driving to the beach.” And when Belly asks Lauren about how she knew she didn’t love Belly’s dad anymore—and how she might use that to help her with her feelings for Conrad—Lauren says, “I want you to have lots of lovers before you settle on one person, Bean.” There’s a suggestion that Lauren might’ve had a fling with a fellow writer, but when Steven asks her if there were any “shenanigans,” he takes back the question because he doesn’t want to hear about it.
The night that Belly, Conrad and Jeremiah spend in the hotel room proves to be completely innocent. But elsewhere, couples kiss—sometimes lustily. Hands are held. Feelings are expressed and squashed and lied about. We hear about a fight that took place a few episodes earlier. Women wear outfits that expose a bit of cleavage and midriff.
Lauren and a new writer friend order tequilas on the rocks. We see other people drink as well. Characters say the f-word seven times and the s-word five times. We also hear “b–ch,” “h—,” “p-ssed” and “d-ck.” God’s name is misused 10 times, three of which also include the word “d–n.”
After Belly calls her mom and makes a drunken plea for her to come up to the beach house and “fix everything,” her mother, Lauren, does indeed drive up—and boy, is she mad. After all, Belly has spent the last six episodes lying to her, and the house (following last episode’s party) is a disaster. But her presence does seem to fix a big, bad issue, and Belly and the boys take steps to fix a few others.
A couple kisses quite passionately. We see another couple exchange smooches, as well. Characters talk about their feelings for various people. And Belly wears short shorts and a midriff-baring top. There’s a reference to a previous sexual encounter between Belly and Conrad, which Belly says she doesn’t regret at all.
In a moment of anger, Lauren slaps Belly’s face and, naturally, feels terrible about it. Mother and daughter exchange apologies for past and present hurts and move on.
Julia (Susannah’s sister) hears how her child, the nonbinary Skye, built a bong out of an apple and kissed Cameron. When someone asks if a wall is stained with blood, someone explains that it’s probably just “Kool-Aid and Goldschläger.” Kids treat their parents disrespectfully.
Characters say the f-word 10 times, the s-word five times and also utter “h—” and variations of “p-ss.” God’s name is misused five times.
Julia, Susannah’s sister has sold the house. But Belly, Conrad and Jeremiah are determined to send the place off in style—with a massive party.
That party is powered by liquor, though no one’s actually old enough to buy alcohol. Conrad tries to use a fake ID; Jeremiah tries to get an old friend to sell alcohol to them; but Belly successfully makes the buy by playing the pity card. (“Do not get pulled over or I’ll say you stole it while I was on the john,” the merchant warns them.) The haul includes beer, tequila, vodka “and gin, for Skye [the boys’ nonbinary cousin].” We see plenty of people drink, often to excess, and Belly herself gets seriously drunk.
Romance and drama flow equally freely. Steven and Taylor (Belly’s brother and best friend, respectively) engage in a somewhat sensual dance when Taylor’s boyfriend, Milo, shows up. Steven and Milo get in a tussle. Taylor later kisses someone. Meanwhile, Skye (who quizzes Taylor and Belly on how to kiss) smooches family friend Cameron. We hear a lot of talk about past kisses and relationships—including when Jeremiah talks about how he enjoyed his first and second kiss, with a girl and a boy, at the beach house.
Women wear a variety of revealing outfits, including swimsuits and halter tops. A couple of guys are seen shirtless. In flashback, Julia and Susannah drink wine. Someone vomits in the house, and a couple of partygoers vandalize the place (by spray-painting a wall and smashing a window).
Conrad and Jeremiah use credit cards—given to them by their father for emergencies—to buy party decorations. Skye tells her mother that she’s happy at the beach house, “and not in a pharmaceutically induced way.” We hear references to a bad Christmas season, where the “Christ” portion of the name is replaced by a profanity. There’s a reference to skinny dipping. Characters say the f-word 10 times and the s-word nine times. We also hear other profanities (sometimes as parts of song lyrics), including “a–,” “b–ch,” “crap,” “d–n” and the n-word. God’s name is misused five times, and Jesus’ name is abused once.
But it’s not all bad. Several characters talk about how much they love their parents and miss them when they’re not around. [Spoiler warning] And when the party goes wrong, Belly calls her own mother—asking her to make everything right again.
After Belly and the gang return to the beach house, they discover that Julia (Susannah’s sister and now owner of the house) has already moved all the furniture into storage in preparation to sell it. With their beds all gone, the teens decide to sneak into the country club and spend the night there.
They’re joined by Cam Cameron, whose mother works at the club. They use her security code (without her knowledge) to get in. Cameron cautions them to be very careful and neat, but he encourages them to eat the club’s food. Two teens also rummage through the club’s lost-and-found contents. Taylor (Belly’s best friend) finds a cool leather jacket there—and a bag of marijuana in said jacket. She and Skye manufacture a bong out of an apple, which they use and eventually dare Steven (Belly’s brother) to eat. (Steven spits out most of what he’s tried to chew, then runs off camera to vomit.)
During a game of Truth or Dare, both the truth and dare inquiries feel tame to Taylor, who says the evening needs to get “much more Euphoria” (referencing HBO’s wildly problematic teen show). Jeremiah is dared to kiss Belly, but he refuses—later telling her, “If I kiss you, I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop.” In flashback, Belly and Conrad flirt and hold hands—much to Jeremiah’s discomfort. Another flashback reminds us that Jeremiah is bisexual; he’s been crowned homecoming king and will be attending the dance with his beau, Blake. Taylor and Steven enjoy a very close dance with each other (though Taylor’s dating someone else).
We see characters drink wine, and we hear discussions about pomegranate margaritas and strawberry daquiris. Conrad and Jeremiah plot to sue their father. Taylor decries debutante balls, saying it’s weird to throw a party to “present a bunch of hot virgins to society.” Conrad reminisces about when his brother urinated in his lunchbox.
In a flashback, Lauren (Belly’s mother) hears her friend Susannah say “a–” and shouts, “I love it when you swear!” Steven (Lauren’s son) says “a–” doesn’t count as a swear word, and he then asks Susannah to say “motherf—er.” We hear the f-word another eight times, along with seven uses of the s-word and “b–ch,” “h—” and “p–sed.” God’s name is misused four times, once with the word “d–n.”
With Julia (Susannah’s sister) still planning on selling the beach house, Belly and the crew head down to the boardwalk and engage in a day of fun and games. The outing takes on a new competitive wrinkle when the boys and girls (well, two girls and the nonbinary Skye) face off in a series of contests. Meanwhile, Lauren—Belly and Steven’s mother—tries to navigate a bookselling conference and runs into an old flame.
Skye (whose preferred personal pronoun is “their”) has a good time getting to know cousins Jeremiah and Conrad: Skye’s mother, Julia, had a difficult relationship with her own sister, and Skye lets the boys know that Julia is not the ogre they imagine her to be. “And your mom was no saint.”
We hear discussion of past and possibly future romances. Jeremiah and Belly hold hands (mainly for moral support during a scary carnival ride). Steven jokes with Taylor (Belly’s best friend) about fantasizing about him in the shower. Women wear cleavage-revealing tops, and guys sometimes go about shirtless. Someone references to-short shorts. Lauren arranges a dinner with her old beau.
We hear about previous visits to the boardwalk, including times that characters vomited there. (Steven offers to get Belly a “barf bag” in preparation for an intense ride.) Someone jokes about smelling bad. Lauren and a fellow author both joke about and drink wine.
We hear plenty of joking trash talk. Also on your audio radar: 13 f-words, a half-dozen s-words and several other milder profanities (“a–,” “d—n” and “h—“). God’s name is misused three times. There’s a suggestion that someone broke the beach house’s air conditioning on purpose to keep Julia from holding an open house.
Belly and Jeremiah learn why Conrad disappeared: The beach house has been put up for sale. Apparently, Susannah’s sister, Julia, inherited her half and plans to unload the thing as soon as possible. Meanwhile, Steven and Taylor, Belly’s brother and best friend, respectively, decide to head up to the beach house themselves to find out what happened to Belly. In flashback, we see the implosion of Conrad’s and Belly’s relationship—beginning during Belly’s prom and coming to a crashing conclusion during Susannah’s funeral.
During that flashback, Belly and others mention the hotel room they rented after prom. Laurel, Belly’s mother, jokes that she must be “a cool mom now” that they’re talking about renting a hotel room in front of her. (Belly insists it’s just so she and her friends can hang out.) When Conrad says he needs to head back to college (Brown University) right after prom, Belly is offended, saying she expected him to spend the night. They break up shortly thereafter.
During Susannah’s funeral, Conrad plays “Oh Where Can My Baby Be,” a classic by The Cavaliers (but better known these days as a hit for Pearl Jam). The song includes the lyrics, “The Lord took her away from me.” Later, at the Fisher house, Belly walks in on Conrad, lying on the lap of an old girlfriend. A rather public argument ensues, which ends with Belly falling down and storming out.
In the present, Conrad, Jeremiah and Belly begin to patch their mutual relationship up. Conrad and Jeremiah speak disrespectfully to their father when he refuses to let them withdraw money from their trust funds to buy the beach house. Steven and Belly’s mother are still kept in the dark about their true whereabouts. Steven asks Taylor if her current boyfriend is bothered by them heading up to the beach house together. “Because we kissed for two seconds?” Taylor says with a smirk. (But it’s pretty clear that, before the end of the season, they’ll be smooching again.)
Speaking of looking forward a bit, we’re introduced to a new character named Skye, who is reportedly nonbinary. Couples kiss. Belly takes a swim in a modest swimming suit, and we see other women in slightly revealing garb.
A character appears to either have a heart attack or panic attack and collapses. Characters say the f-word six times, the s-word 15 times and utter a bevy of other profanities, including “a–,” “h—” and “p-ssed.” God’s name is misused three times, and Jesus’ name is abused once.
Belly and Jeremiah head to Brown University to track down an AWOL Conrad. When they get there, they learn he’s gone to the beach house, so they follow. In flashback, we see happier days for Belly and Conrad, including when they snuck off to the beach house the previous winter and had sex.
Belly sneaks out of her own house to head up to Cousins with Conrad: The two of them marvel at the snow for a bit before they come in and start stripping. Belly helps Conrad takes off his shirt, Conrad undoes Belly’s sweater and bra and the two lie down by the fire, kissing romantically but with obvious intent. (Nothing more critical than Belly’s shoulders and Conrad’s chest are seen.)
When Conrad goes missing, Belly again lies to her mother, this time to sneak off with Jeremiah to investigate Conrad’s disappearance. She makes her best friend, Taylor, cover for her, and the two lie repeatedly to Belly’s mom and brother to cover their tracks. (Steven, Belly’s brother, eventually wises up.)
In the aftermath of Steven’s graduation party, mother Laurel expresses surprise that he has woken up so early. “I can never sleep in when I drink,” he says, before catching himself. (But, apparently, Steven’s drinking is no big whoop to Laurel; they share a knowing smile with each other.) She offers to cook him eggs. “Nice and runny, great for a hangover.” (Again, it’s worth mentioning that Steven’s years away from being of legal drinking age.)
Jeremiah cries over Belly and his kinda-sorta breakup and damaged relationship, and they kinda-sorta make up. We learn that after Belly and Conrad broke up, Conrad fell into a deep depression and just stared at Belly’s picture all day. (This according to Conrad’s shirtless college roommate.)
Female characters wear tops that reveal midriff and cleavage. Characters say the f-word six times, the s-word eight times and utter other profanities, including “a–,” “h—” and “p–sed.” God’s name is misused twice.
The episode toggles between the aftermath of Season One (which ended with Belly and Conrad getting together) and the present, where Susannah has died, Belly’s not speaking to either Fisher boy, and her grades are in the dumps. Meanwhile, Belly’s brother, Steven, is preparing to head to Princeton; and her mother has just published a book based on her friendship with Susannah, but she’s reluctant to market it.
Steven makes a raucous graduation speech (based largely on a posthumous gift and card from Susannah) that includes an f-word. Everybody, including all the parents, applaud proudly. He, Belly and all their friends attend a party that, apparently, Steven is throwing elsewhere. Their mother, Laurel, assumes that everyone will be drinking (despite being underage) and just makes Steven promise not to drink and drive. (Indeed, most everyone at the party is drinking heavily; the exception is Belly, who promised to be Steven’s sober driver.) Belly compliments a guy on how well he handles a keg.
Several couples, both in flashback and in the present, kiss. In flashback, Belly and Conrad spend the night together, though it’s unclear whether anything sexual happens. (Susannah greets them as they return to the beach house in the morning, and gives them both a knowing look.) We see female characters in revealing tops, and guys sometimes go without shirts. We learn that Conrad’s father cheated on Susannah when Susannah first got sick. Belly talks about her own parents’ apparently passionless marriage before they divorced.
Laurel drinks a beer. She and Belly get into a fight. Characters say the f-word six times, the s-word four times and utter a variety of other profanities, including “a–,” “b–ch” and “p-ssed.” God’s name is misused about a dozen times, once with “d–n.”
Belly, older brother Steven, and their mom, Laurel, arrive at the beach house in Cousins and start having a great time with the Fishers. The Fisher mom asks Belly to be a part of the debutante ball, and later, chaos ensues at a beach bonfire. Belly meets a new boy, Cam, and they hit it off while the mothers try to figure out how to deal with Conrad. A major focus of the show is peoples’ appearances, constantly comparing attractiveness among the teen characters. Several people mention the ways Belly has grown up and gone through puberty. Laurel is divorced. Laurel is always worried about the financial differences beween her family and the Fishers. Several characters make out with other teenagers. Conrad drinks and smokes marijuana at the same time, and Laurel shares a joint with the Fishers’ mother. The girls wear tight-fitting and otherwise immodest outfits, while the boys are often shirtless. Teens drink and a few are intoxicated, but the moms seem unbothered. Refreshingly, Belly and Cam bond over their shared choice not to drink, but that doesn’t slow the party down. A few comments with sexual implications are made. The s-word is said many times, h— is used as a swear word, and different versions of the word a– are used.
Belly decides to be a debutante and goes shopping with the moms to get prepared for all the debutante events being held during the summer. She goes to the debutante tea and runs into Cam again, who invites her on a date. Meanwhile, Belly’s brother, Steven, is getting more serious with Shayla, another debutante. Belly is having increasingly serious fights with the Fisher boys and her brother. They all insult each other and their choices. There’s discussion of a lesbian bringing her girlfriend to the debutante tea:Laurel and the Fishers’ mom say that a debutante bringing her girlfriend is progressive, but the girl later confesses that she hoped that her choice of date would be an excuse not to go. She mentions that she thought the country club would suggest conversion therapy. An African-American girl says Cousins pretends to be woke. The debutantes hide drinking during the tea and Conrad continues to drink to excess. The boys are disappointed that a marijuana dealer they know got arrested. Laurel asks Belly if they need to have a talk about consent before she leaves on her date. Belly threatens to expose Steven’s fanfiction story, which includes sexual content involving Draco from Harry Potter. Jeremiah discusses kissing and hooking up with two girls and two boys. Steven is shown in a scene where he is clearly about to sleep with Shayla. The swearing continues and worsens, as the f-word is said a few times alongside s-words and other profanities.
Marsella Evans is the Plugged In intern for Summer 2022.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
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