Even though the new Freeform show Cruel Summer is set in the 1990s -- over the course of three very distinct years -- the show has so far managed to avoid beating its audience over the head with references to the unique decade. In a very sweet sequence from the most recent episode, “As The Carny Gods Intended,” Jeanette (Chiara Aurelia) manages to escape the pressure of her very public accusations by sneaking into a dive bar to sing a karaoke version of 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Going On,” a dominant radio hit in 1993. And for those who were paying attention, Cruel Summer co-star Harley Quinn Smith got in a very meta joke that referenced her father, Kevin Smith’s, most famous film.
Harley Quinn Smith plays Mallory in Cruel Summer, a high school nobody who’s initially close to Jeanette but eventually switches allegiances to Kate (Olivia Holt) as the storyline progresses. Mallory’s a wild card, a bit of a rule breaker who’s distrusted by Kate’s mother, Joy Wallis (Andrea Anders). So when she sneaks into Kate’s bedroom window and asks her friend if she wants to watch Clerks, it’s both a timely reference and a meta joke, because Clerks was directed by Harley Quinn’s father.
Asked about the origin of the joke, Cruel Summer executive producer and showrunner Tia Napolitano told CinemaBlend:
The Clerks joke! We literally watched it last night with Austin (Zajur) and Harley, who are dating in real life, at their house with their friends -- outside and socially distanced, of course. And the Clerks joke landed and the crowd just erupted. The Clerks joke was my idea. And I was warned, ‘Oh, Harley’s not going to want to say that.’ And she loved it. You know, it's a big episode for their house! Her boyfriend’s in it, and there’s a Clerk's reference. It was really fun. She was totally game and is just a delight.
You don’t have to be a film scholar to know that the black-and-white indie sensation Clerks is the movie that put Kevin Smith on the map, and established him as a voice to watch for the 90s generation. Filmed in his New Jersey hometown on a miniscule budget, Clerks went on to become a Sundance Film Festival smash and an indie darling, allowing Kevin Smith to make Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma and countless spinoff stories centered around his characters Jay (Jason Mewes) and SIlent Bob (Smith).
Harley Quinn Smith obviously grew up on her father’s movies, and has appeared in them before, holding down a crucial part in the most recent Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. So I personally burst out laughing when Harley Quinn name-dropped her dad’s seminal film, and it’s cool to hear that it played well in the Smith clan, as well.