The YA murder mystery One of Us Is Lying is a book I’ve reread a good number of times. Written by Karen M. McManus, the story follows four high school students — Bronwyn Rojas, Nate Macauley, Addy Prentiss, and Cooper Clay — who are all suspected for murdering fellow student Simon Kelleher. They all had reason to hate him: Simon was going to expose their most private and life-ruining secrets, but which of them would actually commit such a heinous act? The novel allows the audience to read the interiority of each character, while simultaneously trying to figure out who’s guilty. Being a mix of suspense, intrigue, and dramatic high school social politics, this story is one of my top feel-good novels. So when Peacock, NBC’s streaming service, decided to make it into a TV show, I just had to watch.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the show’s first season. Of course, the adaptation was far from perfect, but considering that I knew the plot quite well, I still found myself impatiently waiting for new episodes to come out each week. I liked how the show diverted from the original story in some aspects; it allowed the fans of the book to get hooked just the same. Not only did some of the characterization change, but the characters’ relationships with each other changed as well. Even the biggest plot reveal, who murdered Simon, was completely different in the adaptation. Some of these changes I liked, while others I could do without.
Addy’s perspective was my absolute favorite to read, so I was a bit annoyed with some aspects of its portrayal. What made her story so compelling was how her existence was initially in relation to others, but she evolved into her own person when something as trivial as social status was taken away from her — but it wasn’t trivial to Addy because it was all she had. The show did a good job showing this identity crisis, but failed to fully delve into its cause. Addy undermined her capabilities because of her home life, with a mother who lived vicariously through her while simultaneously belittling her. What allowed Addy to question this was her older sister pointing it out, but she was missing from the on-screen adaptation. I didn’t hate Addy’s story in the show — I actually enjoyed it for the most part — but a further depiction of her home life (which the other main characters’ got more of) would have significantly added to her characterization.
Cooper’s character portrayal was fantastic, and in my opinion, the best portrayal made from the book to the show. In the book, Cooper is concerned about keeping his sexuality a secret from everyone in his life — from his family, to his friends, to his girlfriend Keely — with not just the fear that it will ruin his soon-to-be professional baseball career, but the homophobia he’ll experience from those closest to him. In the show, Cooper’s brother and Keely already knew that he was gay, which allowed for a more developed story in comparison. Instead of only living in fear of being outed, the show allowed for his journey to accepting himself unapologetically. This was also done by featuring his boyfriend — Kris — much more than in the novel, focusing on developing their relationship. Another change from the book to the show was the choice to explore the intersectionality of being Black and being gay. Cooper’s journey to self-acceptance is by finding his place in the world of baseball — a heteronormative, predominately white environment — and learning to combat external pressures and expectations.
Bronwyn & Nate
I found the on-screen portrayal of Bronwyn and Nate’s relationship more than disappointing. Their romance follows the bad-boy-good-girl trope: those who don’t know them believe that Nate is corrupt and Bronwyn is too naive to see it. But the audience knows otherwise — Bronwyn opens up to him, shown to be more than an Ivy-League-bound student; Nate opens up to her, shown to be more than someone with a criminal record. We get to see them and their relationship develop throughout the course of the story. But how did this translate in the show? Not only did the screenwriters not give them enough scenes for their relationship to develop believably, but the actors had no chemistry with each other. Don’t get me wrong, Marianly Tejada (Bronwyn) and Cooper van Grootel (Nate) played their individual roles quite well, but their romance was so unbelievable. And unlike the book, I was not invested in it in the slightest. Maybe it had something to do with the decade age difference between the actors.
I appreciated how the show heavily included characters beyond ‘The Bayview Four.’ But, I also wish the focus stayed on Addy, Cooper, Nate and Bronwyn. In short, I’m conflicted, yet it was interesting to watch nonetheless. In the novel, the four characters were completely ostracized from the rest of the school (on the account of being murder suspects), which brought them a lot closer together. The show definitely touches on this, but they also created plot points that extended beyond them. By focusing on Maeve and Janae, as well as Vanessa and Ms. Avery, the mystery extends beyond the knowledge of the four prime suspects.
I always have high expectations for on-screen adaptations, but overall, Peacock’s One Of Us Is Lying did a good job capturing the spirit of the book. If you’re looking for something new to watch, I highly recommend giving it a chance. And if you’re looking for something new to read, I would definitely pick up McManus’ debut novel (and its sequel One Of Us Is Next).