What I thought about: Cruel Summer (t/w: grooming)

I don’t think I’ve ever been more shocked, stunned, and disappointed in a season finale cliffhanger than the one in this show. And now you get to watch me review it without spoiling it for you.

How did Kate Wallis end up here? The truth may shock you.

What’s it about?
In 1993, Jeanette Turner is living her best, if slightly nerdy and unpopular, teenage life. By 1995, she’s one of the most hated people in America. What went wrong? We actually find out quite early on: In late 1993 the popular, pretty, and wealthy Kate Wallis goes missing – kidnapped, in fact, by the principal at her school, Martin Harris. When she’s eventually rescued towards the end of 1994, she accuses Jeanette of having seen her chained up in Martin’s basement, locking eyes with her before walking away without alerting anyone.

Each episode in the series looks at a significant event in the characters’ lives which, due to the circumstances, plays out differently in each of 1993, 1994, and 1995. In 1993, Jeanette is on a mission to up her coolness by competing with her friends to complete a list of challenges (mostly petty crimes and pranks). But in 1994, she’s a totally different person, filling the void that the now-kidnapped Kate left behind. Literally – she has Kate’s friends and even her boyfriend. And things are going well. In 1995, however, Kate’s allegations against Jeanette have reverberated around the nation, ruined her relationships with friends and family, leaving her fighting to tell the truth in court.

What do I like about it?
Props have to go to the actors, Chiara Aurelia (Jeanette) and Olivia Holt (Kate) – it must have been challenging to convey three different personalities and they do it so well. You might think Jeanette’s change from nerd to popular girl is a sharp contrast, but if you look closer, you will see that she was developing her confidence in lying early on in 1993, still displays an element of self-doubt in 1994, and only drops her lip quiver in 1995.

I also think the show handles the topic of grooming pretty well, although I’m no medical expert in this area. Kate wasn’t especially vulnerable – she had friends, she was well liked, she even had a boyfriend! And, as the show carefully conveys, the kidnapping wasn’t anywhere near as violent as you might think. All of that culminates in a very disturbing penultimate episode dedicated to the time Kate spent trapped in Martin’s house. I actively squirmed throughout that one.

What do I not like about it?
The timeline can actually be really hard to follow – it often felt like we were really only guided by Jeanette’s completely different hairstyles in each year, and the harshly-done desaturated and darkened filter placed on the 1995 scenes. Even with these, it can be difficult to know where you are – the 1994 scenes include a mix of pre and post-rescue of Kate, and the narrative style shows the same event (and therefore the same setting) happening across three different years.

I am also really fucking disappointed in the ending, but I haven’t worked out if that’s because it’s so good or because I hate the writers for it.

Worth a watch?
It’s a bit of a slog at 10 hours, but if the premise interests you then I think you will find this quite a deep and captivating show. Give it more than the first episode, too, as it starts off slow.

By the way…

  • There are side plots in this show but none of them are particularly relevant, which added to my confusion when watching.
  • Olivia Holt was cast as a replacement for Mika Abdalla. I don’t know why, but Olivia was a great choice so there’s no complaints from me.


Quickfire round: Trinkets (Season 2)

Much worse than the first one, this final season of the show about an unlikely trio of friends who bond over court-mandated visits to Shoplifters Anonymous was full of terrible writing and sketchy plots. Still, the cast are amazing and the finale was strong.

At the start of the season, the trio walk into school together for the first time.

Trinkets is essentially a story of friendship. Three characters from school (Tabitha, the rich and popular one, Moe, the smart but scatty one, and Elodie, the shy newbie) bump into each other at a meeting of Shoplifters Anonymous. The story is funny but quite emotional – it’s clear that Elodie shoplifts because she misses her recently deceased mother, and Tabitha because her parents are divorced and her boyfriend is physically abusing her. As for Moe, well, that one’s quite the spoiler.

The show’s first season was really quite good. The trio break down the barriers of social interaction between different groups of people in high school and form an unlikely – and mostly secretive – bond. They even get matching tattoos (of a triangle, no less). They help each other overcome their problems of relationships or abuse or loneliness, with plenty of shoplifting along the way.

It all ended with Elodie running away from home to join a singer on tour whom she was clearly enamoured with. The problem with that ending is that they needed her to come back for the second season, so her position gets abruptly reversed. That’s the problem here – many scenes in the show are just… weird. In some scenes, characters make a big deal out of nothing, while other scenes there seems to be a set up for bigger drama down the road only for that story arc to fizzle out into nothing.

The cast make the most of the bad writing and you do feel invested in the characters themselves, it’s just a shame that the shoddy writing cuts through and is more noticeable than in other shows I have seen this year, and certainly more so than in the previous season.

So, although I was ultimately enough of a fan to binge the second season, I can’t say I particularly recommend Trinkets to anyone who doesn’t feel immediately captivated by the synopsis.


What I thought about: Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich

Convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein, made headlines last year after he was charged with additional sex offences and then killed himself (*allegedly). What I’d never understood was who he really was and what he did to land him in jail and, ultimately, wind up dead. This powerful docuseries explains all.

Sarah Ransome recalling the moment she tried to swim to safety from Epstein’s private island

What’s it about?
Through interviews with ex-business associates, people who worked on his ‘paedophile island’, police chiefs and lawyers who worked on the case, and even Epstein’s own lawyer Alan Dershowitz, the story of Jeffrey Epstein’s criminal history is told. Above all of these people should sit Epstein’s victims, and we hear many of them tell their story in this series.

We learn where Epstein came from, and that he’s always been a manipulative liar. He started out as a school teacher, having lied about his degree (he didn’t have one) to get the job. From there, well, it was just a trail of deceit and crookery. The one thing the documentary isn’t able to tell you is exactly how he made his money, besides the vague notion that he managed other people’s money (and the assertion that, in some cases, he stole it).

What makes for more uncomfortable watching is the history of Epstein’s underage sex offences. With the help of his partner, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell (who has now been arrested & charged with a litany of crimes), he lured underaged girls to his Palm Beach mansion, offering them money in return for a massage which often turned into non-consensual intercourse – in other words, he raped them. There were apparently hundreds of victims, it’s really quite horrific.

What do I like about it?
It’s not really appropriate to say I ‘liked’ this documentary. I do however think it’s important to watch. You feel a sense of outrage at Epstein’s ability to evade capture and, even when he was convicted of a numbed-down charge of soliciting a minor for prostitution in 2008, how his prison sentence was a joke and he was able to do whatever he wanted.

In some ways we can draw parallels to the shocking Abducted in Plain Sight documentary. Both men managed to manipulate others into letting them do whatever they wanted – and in both cases this lead to the sexual assault of minors.

What do I not like about it?
Overall it is a solid documentary, but some more rigid structure would have been a bit better. We kept jumping up and down the timeline, which was at times difficult to keep up with,

Worth a watch?
It’s not going to be an easy watch for some people, but if you were ever curious about the true scale of Epstein’s crimes then you need to watch this.


What I thought about: I May Destroy You

Michaela Coel’s comedy-drama about sexual assault is, I suppose, what you would call a masterpiece of television. I feel as though I’ve only just scratched the surface of understanding the show after running through the episodes once.

The supporting cast, such as Weruche Opia (playing Arabella’s best friend, Terry) are also excellent.

What’s it about?
Arabella, played by Coel, is a millennial who rose to fame after posting a series of relatable tweets which eventually got turned into a book (this actually happens more than you might think). On the eve of a draft deadline for her second novel, Arabella allows herself one hour to have a fun night out with friends. At some point her drink is spiked, and she wakes up, disorientated and with an alarming cut on her forehead. Her only memory of the night before is a sinister flashback that suggests she was raped, which she initially ignores.

What do I like about it?
The show covers a wide spectrum of contemporary issues around sex, sexuality, assault, and substance abuse, which are ever important topics in society. These are handled with hints of humour that make for interesting watching without detracting from their seriousness.

You have to understand that, although the show has a degree of linearity in its storytelling, Coel exercises a large dollop of artistic licence. This allows for interesting narratives including a flashback to the characters’ younger years, a little bit of hallucination, and the truly incredible final episode that sees Arabella confront her rapist.

What do I not like about it?
I’m cautious about saying too much in this section for fear of having not properly understood the show. Some of the issues it covers are delicate, and I hardly have first, or even second-hand experience of many of them, so I’m not sure it would be right for me to tackle them.

I will just say that I didn’t quite understand the role of Arabella’s flatmate Ben, besides understanding that, at face level, he’s a nice and somewhat reserved chap. I’d be really interested in getting an explainer from someone that was able to crack this nut.

I will also say that, as wide-ranging as the show was in terms of sexuality, the inclusion of a transgender character right at the end felt a little squeezed in, a sort of afterthought. It would have been good to see his relationship with one of the main characters (I won’t say who) develop and blossom a bit earlier on in the show.

Worth a watch?
Yes, just bear in mind it’s very 18+ and some scenes can be triggering.

By the way…

  • Coel revealed that she had been sexually assaulted while writing her previous hit, Chewing Gum, and her experience inspired this show.
  • When I watched the show, I mistakenly thought it had finished airing at Episode 10 (there are two more episodes), and was about to write my review being bitterly disappointed by the vague ending.


What I thought about: Unbelievable (t/w: rape)

Straight up, I cried at the end of this one. Some people might get bored of the slow-burn, but you have to remember this is based on a true story, and I think the show’s pacing and tone portray the story in an appropriate – and very moving – way.

These two never gave up. And that’s what matters.

What’s it about?
Marie Adler claims she was raped at gunpoint in her apartment where she lives alone. It’s not an easy case for the local police department – the man wore a mask, he showered at her flat, and therefore left no trace of DNA behind. Marie struggles to recall any of the details of her ordeal as she’s questioned multiple times and asked to fill out form after form recalling her horrific experience.

I don’t want to spoil too much of the story, but this is important. Not too long after Marie’s rape, and in a different state, a police detective attends a call of rape. This time, it plays out entirely differently. Detective Karen Duvall doesn’t rush the victim for a statement. It doesn’t matter, though, as the victim is able to recount the crime in spectacular detail. At the scene, the forensics team come up empty and ask the detective to call it a day. ‘Keep looking’, Duvall says.

Besides being an incredible story of determination by the two main police detectives, the series vibrantly highlights how each victim deals with their assault in a different way, and how some police forces are far better at treating victims of rape than others.

What do I like about it?
I didn’t know anything about the show before I hit ‘play’. At first I thought it was a series of completely unrelated stories of unbelievable true crime. But even with my guard down and without paying close attention, I could see the stark differences in the way the police approached the two rapes. The show does a fantastic job of capturing this.

The show covers everything so delicately and with such emotion. Kaitlyn Denver, playing the part of Marie Adler, is absolutely fantastic in this. Things get a lot worse for her before they get better, and there is a fine balance between feeling aggrieved at the injustice being suffered by Marie, and being filled with hope as the detectives close in on their man.

What do I not like about it?
I thought it was appropriate, but some might not like how slow the show is. I personally watched episode after episode, but I have to admit there’s not a lot happening in the middle. There are a lot of slow, panning shots of concerned faces. We also see into the private lives of the two detectives somewhat unnecessarily.

Worth a watch?
Yes. Do yourself a favour and watch this show. It’s important to help you emphasise with victims of rape, and at base level the facts of this true case are absolutely incredible.

By the way…

  • The story came to light in a 2015 article published on The Marshall Project website
  • There’s also a book titled A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America which you can pick up and read for a more in-depth and less dramatised look at the story