The Book Was Better: The One by John Marrs, Now on Netflix

The One by John Marrs tells the story of the effect of a dating app whose technology matches users with their genetic soulmate through a newly discovered DNA matching program. The novel is told from the perspectives of multiple characters, one of whom is the woman who discovered the science behind the app. I read it and loved it back in October 2020, so when I heard that there would be a Netflix show coming out based on the book in March 2021, I was pretty excited.

The show was not quite what I expected. The premise of the dating app was the same, but the show featured an entirely different cast of characters. The woman who created the app was the most similar to a character from the book, but even she had a name change (in the book she’s Ellie, in the show she’s Rebecca). Her personality was similar, but her plot line was not. Honestly, you could watch the show and read the book in either order (even though I’m always a strong advocate for reading the book first). They’re just that different.

I generally love a good “all the separate characters end up connecting somehow” story, which the show delivered. However, one thing I found so fascinating about the book was the choice to not have the different characters relate to each other at all, beyond their usage of the dating app.

(Warning: spoilers for the novel ahead). In the book, the plot twist ending of the two different narrators’ storylines is a wonderfully bold choice. We discover that Ellie’s supposed match actually hacked into the system, falsely matching himself with her and creating false matches all around the world. Suddenly, the other storylines we’ve been reading all along begin to crumble, as the readers, along with the characters, wonder which, if any, of the matches are legitimate.

(More novel spoilers here!) My personal favorite storyline from the novel was when the chapters were narrated by a man who was a serial killer. His match was a police officer. This man, who describes himself as incapable of love and compassion, did find himself growing close to his match, leaving the reader reeling when we learned their DNA may not be connected at all.

In contrast, the show bases its plot around a murder mystery. The body of a man who was close to Rebecca turns up in the river more than a year after he went missing. Though Rebecca is the main character of the show, it also focuses on the lives of other people who are participating in the matching system, the most significant of which is the lead detective in the murder case.

Netflix title screen Photo by Thibault Penin from Unsplash Also, both the novel and the movie offer a diverse cast of characters, which is always great to see in mainstream media. In the novel, one of the storylines is told by a man who, despite spending his life thinking he was straight, is matched with another man. In the show, the lead detective on the murder case is a bisexual woman whose match is a woman.

Honestly, I think I would have enjoyed the show a lot more if I hadn’t known the book it was based on. The novel is an absolutely wild, fast-paced thriller with plot twists in every chapter, and I just didn’t get that same effect from the show. Still, the show provides the same rich commentary on the effects of the app as the book, and it was overall an entertaining and satisfying watch.

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