Patrick Freyne: American teen dramas are intrinsically weird to the Irish mind

Netflix series One of Us Is Lying has a big twist coming. And the twist is: I don’t care

American teen dramas are just intrinsically weird to the Irish mind. In the same manner in which female roles in Shakespeare's plays were played by male actors back in the olden days, teenagers in American dramas are played by fully grown adults with, I presume, children and mortgages. The classic example was the great Luke Perry, who played Dylan in the original Beverly Hills 90210. He played him as both a troubled rebel heart-throb and a man with a lined forehead, a bus pass in his pocket and a secret yearning for the sweet jazz of Benny Goodman.

And then there are other great teen dramas of yore. There's Wilford Brimley in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (or was it Cocoon? I get a lot of teen dramas mixed up) and, of course, Muppet Babies. That's technically set in a creche, but those freaky infant muppets look as much like plausible teenagers as the cast of One of Us Is Lying, the new drama that recently launched on Netflix.

That said, I’m not sure the creators of One of Us Is Lying are even trying to create a sense of realism. I’m not even sure there were creators. I imagine the Netflix algorithm just chewed up The Breakfast Club, Gossip Girl and I Know What You Did Last Summer and spat out this series fully formed. I reckon the first thing executives at Netflix knew about this show was when it turned up in the top 10 section on the platform. “It’s evolving,” they surely whispered in terror and glee moments before the algorithm killed all of the writers.

The tropes of the US high-school drama are now as fixed and codified as those of high fantasy

In One of Us Is Lying, five students are Breakfast Clubbed into detention where the student who Gossip Girls the school with a mean tell-all blog is murdered and a mysterious anonymous person I Know What You Did Last Summers everyone by releasing the main characters' various secrets. If you've guessed that their secret is that they're all in their forties, you haven't being paying attention. The algorithm has also seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so from time to time a character engages in self-aware snark. "This place is such a cliche, it's like everyone is here to audition for the reboot of a John Hughes movie," says one person, winking at the camera so hard it looks like a twitch.


The characters are a Hughesian hodgepodge. There’s a nerd who wears big glasses and has a ponytail. There’s a floppy-haired poetic rebel who pouts about his secret sorrow while living dangerously and riding a motorbike (much like myself). There’s a flaky pill-popping cheerleader and an insecure jock with a sensitive side. Much like in The Breakfast Club, this foursome end up coming together, although it’s less to do with discovering their shared humanity, and more to do with them being accused of a crime they did not commit … much like the A-Team (who were probably also meant to be high-school students, now that I think about it).

The tropes of the US high-school drama are now as fixed and codified as those of high fantasy. Gathering a disparate band of jocks, nerds, cheerleaders and rebels together isn’t too different from commissioning some wizards, hobbits, elves and ents to take a magical ring to Mount Doom. And the worst of such shows simply throw a varsity jacket or a pair of glasses on an elderly actor and figure that character traits can be developed later. This is one such show. Two episodes in and I can already see the big twist coming a mile off. And the twist is: I don’t care (The Twist Is: I Don’t Care actually sounds like the type of thing the Netflix algorithm would name a show these days).

Plain weird programme

Euphoria (Sky Atlantic/Now TV) is quite a different kind of teen drama, and its second season came to an end this week. Though some of the teenage characters also frequently remind me of the cast of Thirtysomething, Last of the Summer Wine and Live at Three, it still manages to be a beautifully shot, messy, moving and just plain weird programme. It's cut from the same cloth as Skins in that it depicts a bunch of teenagers living a heightened, woozy and surreal existence in a world largely devoid of safe adults. There are night-time bike rides and queasy sex scenes and gratuitously violent incidents and post-drug-binge vomiting sessions and long sequences where characters just talk or stare or hallucinate. Paul Feig's amazing Freaks and Geeks is still the only teen drama I can think of that compellingly depicts the aimless boredom of actual teenage life as I recall it. Euphoria does not do that. A lot happens in Euphoria. It's disorienting.

It's in the very nature of such dizzy shenanigans to be hit and miss, but when Euphoria hits, it hits powerfully

The characters sometimes feel endearingly young and incoherent and sometimes they appear full of worldly wisdom and sophisticated savvy. It's highly stylised. There are whole sequences in which characters' internal states are depicted in visually inventive set-pieces (the closest I get to this in my life is doing a dance or having a tantrum). The final episodes feature a school play-within-a-screenplay that occasionally blends with the real action. The actors are very good, especially Zendaya as risk-taking but vulnerable Rue, and Angus Cloud as sweet but scary Fez. They go for a sort of naturalism that feels extra grounded in contrast to showrunner Sam Levinson's dreamily over-the-top style. I mean, it's in the very nature of such dizzy shenanigans to be hit and miss, but when Euphoria hits, it hits powerfully. At least, in a world of landfill streaming dramas, they're actually trying.

Real nerdy zombie teens

Finally, let me give an honourable mention to Korean teen drama All of Us Are Dead (clearly named by the same Netflix algorithm that created One of Us Is Lying), which features another collection of youngsters who are dealing with the pressures of schoolwork and money and bullying and the fact that all of their classmates are turning into zombies that want to eat them. It's great. It's a gruesome, scary horror adventure, but the thing I like most about it is that the heroes feel like real teenagers who are earnest and tongue-tied and miss their parents and make dorky jokes. I mean, I was obviously a cool rebel teen with stubble who smoked cigarettes and rode a motorcycle and made sassy quips, but I appreciate this depiction nonetheless for the rest of you nerds.