“This place is such a cliché,” proclaims the doomed Simon Kelleher (Mark McKenna) in the opening minutes of Peacock’s “One of Us Is Lying,” as the camera pans across a moodily lit high school cafeteria segregated by social stratum. “It’s like everyone’s here to audition for the reboot of a John Hughes movie.”
“Except none of them knows who John Hughes is,” murmurs his partner-in-hating-everything, Janae (Jessica McLeod).
Everyone involved in “One of Us Is Lying” — an adaptation of Karen M. McManus’ bestselling YA thriller — knows who John Hughes is, since it’s been billed repeatedly as “The Breakfast Club” meets “Gossip Girl.” They’re also aware that much of its target audience has likely never seen a John Hughes movie … and that it couldn’t matter less, because anyone of any age who’s ever seen a teen drama knows the tropes the series is remixing.
Events (mostly in the form of unsilenced cellphones) conspire to land five teens who seem to have nothing in common in detention. There’s Bronwyn Rojas (Marianly Tejada), the “brain” who has her eyes set on Yale; Addy Prentiss (Annalisa Cochrane), the pretty cheerleader “princess” whose insecurity can be mistaken for bitchiness; Cooper Clay (Chibuikem Uche), the “jock” baseball star who’s in the closet; and Nate Macauley, the “bad boy” drug dealer with a heart of gold who seems destined for a life behind bars.
The fifth is Simon Kelleher, who doesn’t make it out of detention alive after taking a glug of water laced with peanut oil, which triggers a lethal allergy attack.
Investigators have a tough job ahead of them because Simon had a hilariously long list of enemies. He devoted his short life to alienating his classmates by digging up their secrets and broadcasting them to the world via his gossip app, About THAT. He was that guy who made social media a minefield for everyone, channeling his rampant superiority complex into a supposedly noble quest to expose the hypocrisy of wealthy, status-obsessed popular kids.
The surviving four become the prime suspects in the murder investigation, since each of them have been hiding a secret that could derail their entire futures. The four have to decide whether to band together or point fingers at each other as an anonymous s— stirrer continues Simon’s About THAT legacy after his death, triggering new plot twists with every dreaded “new post” alert.
Within the subgenre of anonymous social media accounts ruining teen lives, “One of Us Is Lying” manages to surpass HBO Max’s revamped “Gossip Girl” — the faceless villain behind About THAT is more palpably malevolent and ruthless, which leads to some genuinely delicious suspense.
But the main cast’s interpersonal woes and high school romance don’t break through the well-worn clichés and feels a bit like filler next to the central whodunit storyline. Peacock’s latest teen drama works as thoroughly watchable fluff, but if you want an actually clever twist on high school stereotypes and murder mystery, read Karen M. McManus’ far superior book first.