‘Cruel Summer’ Stars Preview Season 2’s Dark Y2K Murder Mystery

Lexi Underwood, Sadie Stanley, and Griffin Gluck in 'Cruel Summer'

Want a gripping TV mystery? Start in a small town that’s got big problems. Take Chatham, a sleepy Pacific Northwest beach hamlet, where you’ll find troubled teens, shady parents, bitter betrayals — and a body washing ashore. It’s the perfect setting for the twisty new installment of Cruel Summer, Freeform’s hit anthology series.

The first season, which aired in 2021, recounted a 1990s tale of an abducted Texas high schooler (Olivia Holt) and the classmate (Chiara Aurelia) who may have been complicit in the crime. That season set up the unique conceit of Cruel Summer: All the action ping-pongs between three different timelines, so you get a clearer picture of how the evolving mystery unfolds.

Season 1 took place over three consecutive summers; for Season 2, new showrunner Elle Triedman is working in a far more compressed space. Armed with a fresh cast and a case of young love gone awry, Triedman’s installment tracks a trio of periods within a single calendar year at the end of the last millennium. “You can see reflected within each episode how the actions in one timeline have repercussions in the others,” Triedman says. And if you think Y2K was nuts, strap in. “Chatham is a crazy, crazy place,” she says with a laugh. Here’s a peek at a year in the life (and death) of Summer’s hot spot.

Cruel Summer Cast

(Credit: Freeform/Frank Ockenfels)

Summer 1999

Worldly, globe-trotting high school transfer student Isabella LaRue (Lexi Underwood, Little Fires Everywhere) arrives to spend senior year living with the blue-collar Landry family: aspiring computer coder Megan (Sadie Stanley of The Goldbergs), younger sister Lily (Jenna Lamb) and single mom Debbie (KaDee Strickland). “I’m the catalyst for a lot of drama that happens,” teases Underwood, whose character instantly clocks that Megan is none too thrilled to have such a privileged new roomie. “Isabella’s ambitious — she knows what she wants for this year and she is not stopping until she gets it. And I think we see that especially in this timeline.”

Shot in bright tones, the early portion of the story hints at dark times ahead, especially once Isabella sets off sparks with Megan’s closest pal, Luke (Locke & Key’s Griffin Gluck). “They have been best friends since they were kids, so, you know…three’s a crowd!” notes Stanley. “When Isabella comes in, it gets messy.”

Winter 1999

In this timeline, six months after their rough start, the girls are now ride-or-die BFFs, Megan and Luke are dating — as are Megan’s mom and Luke’s dad (Paul Adelstein) — and the world is prepping for the end of the century. While the expected chaos of Y2K never strikes, the 1999 holiday season is far from merry and bright. “Winter has sort of a colder hue,” notes Triedman of this timeline’s visual tone. “Things are getting real.” Not to mention scandalous. As Chatham preps to celebrate Christmas, a lurid turn of events ruins the spirit of the season and leads to some serious fallout, including putting one girl’s college future at risk.

Since the show often filmed multiple timelines in a single day, all of these twists, plus the question of how Megan and Isabella first became close and a major development to come, had the members of the cast themselves looking for clues to the mystery they were shooting based on tidbits from the script. “You’d start your day off like, ‘Ah! So good to see everyone!’ and then halfway through your day you’re [crying],” jokes Gluck. “All three of us came up with just about every theory you could come up with.”

Cruel Summer, Season 2 Premiere, Monday, June 5, 9/8c, Freeform

This is an excerpt from TV Guide Magazine’s Cruel Summer cover story. For more inside scoop on what’s coming to TV and streaming in the weeks ahead, pick up the issue, on newsstands Thursday, May 18.