One of Us Is Lying is very much as if The Breakfast Club and Gossip Girl merged into one soapy drama, where cliché teen angst meets murder mystery. Based on Karen McManus’s 2017 novel of the same name, the Peacock original is returning a little over a year later with a second season filled with more secrets that will truly make you ask: whodunnit?
During a recent press junket, showrunner Erica Saleh, along with stars Cooper van Grootel and Marianly Tejada, sat down with Paste to discuss One of Us Is Lying Season 2’s darker tone, balancing mystery with character arcs, and breaking free from stereotypes.
One of Us Is Lying follows characters Bronwyn (Marianly Tejada), Nate (Cooper van Grootel), Cooper (Chibuikem Uche), Addy (Annalisa Cochrane), and Janae (Jess McLeod) as they jump from one murder mystery straight into another. Although the group discover the culprit behind who was framing them for Simon’s murder, Season 2 takes an intense turn as an anonymous figure dubbed “Simon Says” tortures and threatens to expose their even deadlier secret.
“In Season 1, they really haven’t done anything so bad,” said Saleh. Each of the characters are introduced to be battling these individual secrets—cheating on tests, dealing with toxic relationships, coming out of the closet—that fit snugly into the tropes of classic high school archetypes. “Their journey is to realize people make mistakes and that’s okay and to figure out how to live honestly. In Season 2, they have done something really bad and they’re wrestling with this moral gray zone and trauma, so it was very natural for the tone of the season to shift with them and become darker and scarier.”
Van Grootel added, “The stakes are just higher. It’s kind of like, ‘Our characters have to go through this again? This is happening again?’ We’re getting thrown back into this crazy situation and that’s exciting to see.”
One of Us Is Lying works towards peeling back each of the protagonists’ different layers, and Season 2 creates a space to further enable them to break free from the stereotypes and expectations placed upon them. On balancing more complex character arcs with the show’s overarching mystery, Saleh explained, “There’s a really natural intersection. The mystery is part of what’s forcing them to become more authentic and testing them and keeping them from hiding.” Saleh continued, “[It] forces them to decide who they can trust, how much of themselves they’re going to show each other, and who they’re going to be to the world when they’re under truly the worst circumstances you can imagine. It’s this really great exciting backbone that’s an excuse to tell really honest and exciting character stories.”
For Nate and Bronwyn, the season’s mystery allowed space for the duo to understand each other in a deeper way, which in turn allowed the relationship to bloom even further. “They have this traumatic event and they each cope with it differently,” said Tejada. “So it kind of forces them to communicate openly about what they’re feeling and what they’re going through.” Van Grootel echoed, “Now that they’ve sort of developed this intimate bond that they can’t run away from, they still have to navigate these tricky waters having Simon Says loom over the top of them, and this whole murder investigation. I think when a situation is tense and high stakes, you can’t help but feel like you need to lean on someone and be there for someone as well.”
One of Season 2’s more notable arcs comes with McLeod’s character, Janae, who is reckoning with their gender identity in a way that isn’t often present in teen television, but very much prevalent within the show’s audience demographic. “It’s really amazing when you look around [and see] how many kids are being more open about their identity and finding themselves coming out in different ways,” Saleh said on why Janae’s development is significant for representation. “That’s a reality for so many people. We wanted to put a character on screen who was fluid and was also just beginning their journey, figuring it out. It was also really important for us to surround Janae with people who were just like, ‘Yes, this is who you are and we are here for this journey with you, it is right for you to be.’”
With so much of the second season delving into the darker, emotionally thrilling aspects of the storyline, Saleh wanted to ensure that both the show and the audience could get a moment to breathe. “There are some really fun moments in the first half of the season, but it’s intense and a lot of mystery and a lot of them being really stressed out,” said Saleh, as Episode 5 specifically gives the Murder Club a rare opportunity to laugh and just play like actual teenagers. “We were like, ‘We want to see these other sides of these characters. Who are they when they’re not forefronting this stress?’”
The cast spoke about Episode 5 being their favorite to film and to watch because it provides the characters with a temporary escape from their precarious circumstances. For Bronwyn in particular, that came in the form of karaoke. “I remember talking to Erica about singing in Spanish, but I think the song that we picked had to check so many boxes,” said Tejada. “It had to be a very specific song [...] From there, she’s very much liberated and we see it play out through this season, how this episode and this moment in particular just takes her out of her shell.”
This reminder to find moments of lightness within the darkest, most terrible circumstances offers the characters an opportunity to not only embrace their youth, but also a chance to emerge as their authentic selves, a message essential to One of Us Is Lying’s storytelling.
“Hopefully most teenagers aren’t dealing with murder and hiding bodies,” said Saleh. “But teenagers in real life are everyday dealing with so much stress. Parental expectations and friendships in high school, not to mention global warming and the threat of school shootings. The pressures on high schoolers today are just so overwhelming. That’s their reality, and I hope they can find these moments to breathe and find joy in the midst of the stress of real 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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