Warning: This article contains spoilers for both the book and TV series titled “One of Us Is Lying.”
“The Breakfast Club meets murder mystery” in “One of Us Is Lying,” the Peacock series adaptation of Karen M. McManus’ bestselling teen thriller. Five students walk into detention, but only four make it out alive; Simon Kelleher meets his end by way of an allergic reaction to a cup coated with peanut oil, and the police claim foul play. Simon himself created Bayview High’s ruthless gossip app that exposed everyone’s secrets. He was about to publish a post about each student that was in detention with him, making them all suspects. Would one of them go so far as to kill Simon to ensure their secret wasn’t revealed?
The first episode of “One of Us Is Lying” premiered in early October, streaming on Netflix internationally by February. Although the plot of the show deviates significantly from the novel’s, it has grown a following, perhaps because of the compelling portrayal of the main characters. Known as the “Bayview four,” Bronwyn Rojas, Addy Prentiss, Cooper Clay and Nate Macauley are the four suspects in Simon’s murder — each character fulfilling the stereotypes of the brain, beauty, athlete and criminal, respectively. The Peacock series thoroughly explores their heart-wrenching, relatable struggles, showcasing the intricacies of their personalities and making it apparent that they’re much more than their labels.
So many people fell in love with these characters when “One of Us Is Lying” was published in 2017. Their on-screen depictions evoke similar feelings, yet the bonds between each member of the thrown-together Bayview four do not translate as well to television. For context, Bronwyn and Nate were friends as children, and Addy and Cooper run in the same social circles, but none of the four are friends per se; certainly, it would be unrealistic if they were to all immediately trust each other and form close friendships.
Still, even when the group works together to find out who really killed Simon and thus clear their names, their relationships never feel as close-knit and comforting in the series as they do in the novel. With the exception of a blooming romance between Bronwyn and Nate, the four are constantly at each other’s throats, and one awesome group dance scene to Olivia Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U” can’t fix that.
It’s easy to recognize the motivation behind the major changes made to the plot of “One of Us Is Lying.” When it comes to a mystery, the goal is to ramp up the drama and make it even more exciting for all viewers, including those who have never read the source material. Binge-worthy drama typically entails violence, murder and scandal, a lot of which form plots that are far from the realm of reality in many teen dramas.
However, when it comes to “One of Us Is Lying,” the creation of more salacious storylines may have backfired. The novel ends with the discovery that Simon had orchestrated his own death, planning to frame the Bayview four. Jake Riordan — Addy’s controlling ex-boyfriend — had discovered that Addy had cheated on him, so Simon assures him that she’d eventually be arrested for his murder.
The series changes this storyline; in the TV adaptation, Simon merely wants to frame the Bayview four for his attempted murder. He asks Jake to wait outside with an EpiPen and inject him with epinephrine after he suffers an allergic reaction when he intentionally drinks from a cup coated with peanut oil. Jake agrees to Simon’s plan, only to betray him, resulting in his demise. The problem with this major plot change is that the irredeemable actions strip Simon and Jake’s characters of all likability, and the audience is no longer asked to acknowledge the humanity in both of the troubled teens.
Simon, a perpetual outsider, creates his gossip app as a means of getting attention at Bayview High; he sees exposing others as a way to gain control over the popular crowd. Simon is brilliant with a distinct, iconoclastic perspective and a razor-sharp sense of humor. Suffering from depression stemming from constant ostracization, he concocts a nefarious plot to kill himself in a way that gives him the last word on the high school hierarchy and stereotypical cliques.
By exploring his struggles, one still has sympathy for Simon, even when he exposes people’s personal lives for everyone to see, ruining their relationships and reputations in the process. However, the Peacock series plays up the perception of Simon as the “omniscient narrator,” someone who is all-knowing and above everyone else.
Similarly, the novel generates sympathy for Jake when he opens up about the pain of his mother’s affair, making him consequently unable to forgive Addy when she cheats on him. Yet, the series finds Jake not only willing to let his ex-girlfriend be framed for murder but to let Simon die, seemingly for no real reason.
Furthermore, the show misses its opportunity to highlight the complex reality of abusive teenage relationships. Jake’s treatment of Addy is concerning even prior to his discovery that she had cheated on him. His controlling nature leads him to dictate everything Addy does, down to what clothes she wears. He creates an unhealthy dependency in Addy that she then has to unlearn without him in her life. Instead of delving into how Jake’s need for control spiraled into something dangerous, the show paints him as a villain more fit for “The Hunger Games” than the halls of high school. While this generates more drama and makes the “One of Us Is Lying” Peacock series a bit spookier, it lacks the novel’s nuanced exploration of mental health and teen culture.
However, when the series focuses on the Bayview four, the enjoyable aspects of the adaptation of “One of Us Is Lying” come to the foreground. Bronwyn, played by Marianly Tejada, demonstrates the pressure that high-schoolers today face as the straight-A student with a family legacy at Yale.
Addy, portrayed by Annalisa Cochrane, struggles to find herself after spending so much time defining herself by her relationship; and Cooper, played by Chibuikem Uche, must come to terms with his identity as a baseball player and a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. Cooper’s observation that baseball players can be absolved of beating up other men but not of having romantic relationships with them is unfortunately spot-on in today’s society.
Finally, Nate, played by Cooper van Grootel, is more nuanced than the typical bad boy, formed in part by a homelife made chaotic by an alcoholic father and a mother who left when he was young.
Where the series falls apart is in its deviation from the novel’s plot, which makes it miss the mark when it comes to telling a story of genuine friendship and the real issues teenagers face. Peacock recently announced a second season of “One of Us Is Lying,” which will continue where Season 1 left off — further deviating from McManus’ work, which originally led to a sequel, “One of Us Is Next,” that focused on different characters. Arguably, however, the story will continue to suffer from the show’s questionable changes.