One of Us is the worst crime drama since I made that 90-minute YouTube video of my guinea pigs re-enacting the Rolf Harris trial. And, at least that had some kind of narrative consistency… But all jokes aside, One of Us is painfully bad – less of a drama and more a string of incomprehensibly bad decisions made by a cast of stupid characters. Almost every plot point is baffling. I can only assume it got made because someone high up in the BBC looked at the one sentence logline, thought it sounded ‘a bit Agatha Christie’ (and people (deservedly) liked that And Then There Were None mini-series), and greenlit it without a further thought. Indeed, at the outset, One of Us could have been Christie levels of clever and awesome, but it wasn’t. And it isn’t. At all. And I guess I better explain myself. Or it’s just gonna sound like I’m moaning. Let’s dive in to this shit-pot, shall we?
It’s probably important to note this review will include spoilers – but only the ones I need to illustrate my point. It probably will include the ending though. You don’t need to wait for my review score to know that I wouldn’t recommend watching this, and even if you do, spoilers might actually make it better.
One of Us is an initially intriguing premise, and the first few trailers really capitalized on it. I was really looking forward to it. It’s quite a simple concept. What if the man who killed a member of your family ended up on your doorstep the very same day? Of course, someone ends up killing him. But no one knows who? Two families united by the union of their children – now dead – are torn apart, forced into covering up a murder . When I saw that first trailer with the gruff threatening tag ‘One of us did this. One of us right here.’ I really thought it might be something special, but it didn’t take long for One of Us to fall apart.
Everything that happens in One of Us is so bewildering that it’s hard to believe the script was written by actual humans. Straight off the bat, the premise is rather unbelievable. The writers are already asking the viewer to suspend their disbelief a little bit, as the killer of the two love-birds Adam and Grace, just happens to crash right outside the farm of the two families. Of course, things do come around and make a bit more sense in the end, but that doesn’t change how it feels at the start. Everything else in One of Us had to be incredibly strong to counteract the feeling it was always going to be a little silly. And of course, it wasn’t strong enough.
From the very first episode, One of Us seems to want to force a seemingly unrelated subplot about drugs down your eyeholes. Laura Fraser’s police detective sells drugs to an Edinburgh dealer to raise money for her daughter’s operation, and things start to spiral out of control. We’re given little to no reason to care about it at all, and I started to question what I was even watching. Especially by the end, where the completely unrelated drug subplot was revealed to be (drumroll) COMPLETELY UNRELATED. Seriously, what the fuck?
Similarly stupid things happen in the main plot. You see, One of Us isn’t actually set in the real world. It’s set in a fantasy land, where police don’t check phone records, and the most reasonable character will turn around and allude to murder…on a Facebook message (because that’s not trackable at all) or an actual member of the families will just own up to everything to police and expect no repercussions whatsoever. Or such a person will be absolved immediately by the most unlikely person. Sure, these things are supposed to be justified with a little thing called Character, but the characters of One of Us are hardly interesting, fitting cookie cutter moulds easily.
One of Us gets cluttered and convoluted, when it could have been oh so simple (and oh so good). Revelations come thick and fast (in the place of actual plot development). Things get so outlandish that when the big bombshell drops at the end (and it is one fucking dumb bombshell) it doesn’t feel out of place at all – in fact the characters seem to agree because they don’t seem to care that much. Multiple people are having multiple affairs. People are hacking into people’s computers. There’s at least one serious disease being kept on the hush hush. And that’s without even mentioning any of the Looney Tunes shenanigans that happen in the final episode. All of this prevents us engaging with the thing that we came to see. The thing that was advertised. A murder in a barn with a list of viable suspects – a family unit who are forced to suspect each other.
The ending was incredulous. That’s about the only way I can describe it. It seemed to almost own how stupid it was (like did they know?? did they get how dumb this all was??) But when we finally got the ending reveal and the villain of the piece gave his/her closing monologue explaining everything…I was just glad it was all over.
It isn’t all dreary. The cast, for the most part, is good. Joe Dempsie and Joanna Vanderham are the standouts as Rob and Claire Elliot and whenever they’re on screen things are a bit more bearable. Vanderham suffers because of the stupid things her character does, but it’s hardly her fault. Adrian Edmondson is actually great as, arguably, the most interesting character, the estranged father who has to deal with losing a child. Unfortunately, he’s only in about three scenes. Also, Laura Fraser’s good in everything but her police detective character here is just so separated from the story, it’s hard to really engage with her. Elsewhere, there’s a showcase of bad to terrible Scottish accents which at least make things amusing.
One of Us could have worked one of two ways. One, it should have been a ninety minute drama set in one location (the barn) with maybe one police character. It could have been a modern The Mousetrap. The other way it could have worked (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) is if it was longer. If it was at least Broadchurch length, it could have spent more time with the characters and spaced out the revelations a little more. Of course, it would have had to be entirely rewritten as well.
As it is, One of Us is a complete disaster, and I have to place the blame completely on the writers’ doorstep. I can’t even begin to fathom what was even the intention here…because it’s so sporadic and unwieldy and weird. Was this all some drug-induced fever dream? No…that might have been a little more fun.
One of Us is a trainwreck of a crime drama that reaches heights of dumbness that I don’t actually think I’ve seen before. Parts of it come off as parody and even more parts come off as a tragedy of the writersroom. Too many concepts and plotlines are stuffed into a four-part series that should have been clean and simple. The cast tries their best with what they’re given but not much can mask the fact that One of Us is unenjoyable, incredulous rubbish.
ONE of US (BBC)