In a world where so much of TV can feel rather heavy or bleak, it’s nice to escape into a silly little teen drama. Where characters, plotlines, and dialogue are hopelessly entertaining, but also at times ridiculous, and reminiscent of an era of soapy television that feels easy on the brain. However, One of Us Is Lying’s attempt at blending emotionally-driven YA stories with intense murder mystery doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Based on Karen McMamus’s 2017 novel of the same name, Peacock’s One of Us Is Lying follows characters Bronwyn Rojas (Marianly Tejada), Addy Prentiss (Annalisa Cochrane), Nate Macauley (Cooper van Grootel), and Cooper Clay (Chibuikem Uche), who all embody tropes taken straight out of The Breakfast Club (the brain, the beauty, the bad boy, and the jock). The group, dubbed as The Bayview Four (and later on Murder Club), find themselves as the prime suspects in a homicide investigation when the school’s notorious Gossip Boy Simon Kelleher (Mark McKenna) dies after drinking from a cup laced with peanut oil, triggering his deadly allergy. As the season progresses, the unlikely group find themselves joining forces in order to prove their innocence and solve the mystery of who actually killed Simon. It’s a very basic formula for an uncomplicated YA show that serves as, at the very least, a great background watch.
In the Season 1 finale “One of Us Is Dead,” the Bayview Four, along with Simon’s best friend Janae Matthews (Jess McLeod) discover that Addy’s ex-boyfriend Jake (Barrett Carnahan) has been the one manipulating and framing them. As the group are chased into the woods at gunpoint, the season ends with Jake shot dead and Murder Club now harboring a secret that truly has their lives on the line.
Season 2 (which runs 8 hour-long episodes, all of which were available for review) picks up immediately after those events, with a looming anonymous figure known as “Simon Says” threatening to expose the group’s deadly secret if they don’t obey commands. From smashing cars on the school campus to stealing money from cash registers, the introduction of “Simon Says” provides a much more compelling storyline, as the show shifts into a darker, more thrilling tone. Whereas Season 1 was mostly the group trying to maintain their innocence while juggling their own personal problems, Season 2 has Murder Club tortured with a variety of suspicious activities that further implicate them in Jake’s disappearance—all while desperately trying to hide the very fact that this time around, they actually did kill someone.
Despite the fairly interesting premise, the season unfortunately goes downhill quickly in its chaotic execution. The show’s back-and-forth between “Simon Says” suspects becomes increasingly tedious to watch and isn’t very effective at making us root for the characters, as they continuously find themselves in the wrong. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect is in the continued sidelining of Maeve Rojas (Melissa Collazo), who has proved time and time again that she is the smartest person in the group but is underutilized. She is either Bronwyn’s sister or Janae’s girlfriend, but never a proper member of the group, despite being the one who, for the most part, constantly fixes their shit. In Episode 5 (“Simon Says Ho Ho Ho”), Maeve even makes a subtle jab at this very fact when hacking into the school computer to see that their own principal is writing a story about Murder Club and has conveniently written her out.
The season’s brightest spots are in Janae’s blooming character development. In Episode 3 (“Simon Says Let’s Get Personal”), Janae shares with Addy their conflicted feelings about their gender identity (“Sometimes I wish that gender didn’t exist”). It’s a rare representation of a visceral experience that many teens are dealing with internally, and to have a character voice that struggle while being offered only kindness and understanding in return is powerful. At no point is Janae’s identity used as a throwaway plot device, nor is it used to villainize them as an individual. Rather, it’s a growing seed that flourishes throughout the season as they slowly become more comfortable with their fluidity.
In short, Season 2 of One of Us Is Lying is never bad but not great, falling into this middle-tier of mediocrity that’s attached with a lot of modern teen television. The characters are given more room to explore their authentic selves, for the most part falling away from the shells of their Season 1 stereotypes and shields, though the balance between emotional arcs and the overarching suspense never truly reaches an equilibrium. If anything, the season is a watchable escape into a couple hours of teenage drama that will at least make you think, “Hey, I’m glad this isn’t my life.”
One of Us is Lying Season 2 premieres Thursday, October 20 on Peacock.
Dianna Shen is an entertainment writer based in New York. When she’s not crying over a rom-com, she can be found on Twitter @ddiannashen.
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