Tia Napolitano as showrunner of psychological thriller Cruel Summer, is part of a cast and crew that have been delivering one of the breakout television hits of the year. Currently airing its first season on Freeform, Cruel Summer takes viewers on an intense and thrilling ride through the 90s and has viewers wondering who they can believe.
We spoke with Tia about the intentional roller coaster the writers have put viewers on, wild fan theories and speculation, the importance of portraying villains as villains, and a satisfying but jaw-dropping ending that will leave the audience stunned…and what that means for a season 2.
Read on for our exclusive interview with Tia Napolitano below:
Thank you so much for speaking with us today! I am loving Cruel Summer so far. It’s just what we needed.[laughs] Thanks!
It’s been such a huge hit so far. When did you know this was going to be something special?
I had the pleasure of watching the original version of the pilot. I think it immediately stands out as something special with the triple timelines and the dual perspectives. It seemed like nothing that had ever been done before and that was really exciting for me.
How hands-on do you prefer to be as a showrunner in the process of crafting a series?
I am extremely hands-on. I love my job. As much as I can be involved, I try to be. In terms of story, very hands-on.
I love that it takes place in the mid 90s. What did you love most about having the cast essentially travel back in time?
I loved the 90s. Going back there to the fashion, the accessories, the music… we have caboodles! Its really a nostalgic time machine that’s been wonderful. The actresses playing Kate and Jeanette, they’re using walkmans for the first time and they’ve never seen them before. They’re like “What’s this huge piece of equipment?” I’m like “This is slender, this is a novel piece of technology!”
A big theme of the show so far seems to be the choices that we make and the aftermath of those decisions. We’ve learned how far Jeanette is willing to go but the situation seems much more complicated than who is innocent or guilty. Would you say this dynamic will continue to play out as the season progresses?
Yes. I think for Jeanette and every character in our show, a big theme is they are good people who make bad choices. One bad choice can really spiral out of control.
After Martin Harris was introduced, I was really curious about his motivation and if he would become a sympathetic villain – or in this case, romanticized. But so far he seems to be a clear-cut, creepy villain.[laughs]
How did you approach developing his character?
I think part of why people anticipate Martin’s character to be sympathetic or romanticized is Blake Lee’s very sweet face [laughs]. He doesn’t look like a mustache clown villain. Part of what was very important to me was that we do not romanticize anything about it. If anyone interprets it that way, that was completely not the intention. There is nothing to romanticize about a teacher crossing even the subtlest of lines with a student.
Everything changes so fast over the course of an episode. I keep thinking I have it all figured out but then something is revealed to throw my theory right out the window. Have you been keeping up with fan theories online? Has anyone gotten close?
There are so many fan theories that I cant keep up with them. It’s so delightful. It’s very intentional that we are taking the fans on a roller coaster. We want your allegiances to shift, we want your theories to change. From what I’ve heard so far, it seems that we are doing it right because the theories are all over the place. No one seems to know who to believe.
With a series like this, viewers often wonder when their questions will be answered. Is this a story that you envision can go beyond season 1 with all the twists and turns that are possible?
We are exploring how to move forward into season 2 potentially. But by the end of season 1 you will get everything answered. We went out of our way to make sure we delivered a satisfying ending. We don’t want to string people along forever. Every clue will be answered and the truth will be revealed.
Is there anything that you can tease about what you’re most looking forward to viewers seeing in the upcoming episodes?
The finale is amazing. You actually get to learn the truth. I think the satisfaction the viewers will get in episode 10 is going to have everyone’s jaw on the floor.
Thank you so much to Tia Napolitano for taking the time to speak with us!
Tune in to Cruel Summer airing Tuesdays on Freeform.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.