This past weekend one of my friends (shoutout to Esméralda) asked me if I had ever seen You on Netflix. I had not…but after learning of the premise of the show I was intrigued to give it a viewing to see what the hype was about. Usually, a well-directed and well-acted thriller is worth the watch. Based on Caroline Kepnes’s novel of the same name, You is a psychological-thriller (dark comedy?) that follows bookstore manager (read: creeper) Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) after he falls in love with Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail) and becomes obsessed with her.
The first season of the show originally aired on Lifetime during the fall of 2018, but Netflix picked it up for season 2, and made season one available for streaming one day after Christmas. Ever since America’s No. 1 streaming service made the show available, it has taken on a second life on social media. The show’s structure is what makes Netflix the perfect home because it’s written in a way that makes binge-watching the most effective way to watch it. It is easy to digest and the first season is only 10 episodes long, and each episode is around 45 minutes long, which only took about 2 days to binge. Spoilers after the trailer.
A Solid Start
The pilot uses an interesting color palette to set the tone for the show. The opening scene is set in Mooney’s bookstore in New York, and it’s filled with a lot of different shades of brown, and both of the two main characters are wearing brown. Bookstore manager Joe Goldberg is doing his best Dexter Morgan impression and starts narrating about a woman who has walked into the store and he’s analyzing everything about her. He sparks up a conversation with her, finds out her name is Guinevere Beck, and then he proceeds to be obsessed with her. After their initial conversation any sense of realism that You had walked out the door with Beck as soon as she left the bookstore.
Creeper Joe goes home, does his Googles on Beck, narrates all the details that he discovers about her, and uses an image from one of her profiles to find out where she lives. Stalker Joe goes to her home, which is on a main street, and spies on her through her curtainless and blinds-less windows. The show is self-aware enough to mention that not having blinds or curtains is a major privacy concern, but I guess we can chalk that up to being a Two Americas thing. As he continues monologuing about being a white knight, Stalker Joe stalks Beck all day and all night, watches her and her boyfriend Benji hook up, and continues to perv on her until the coast is clear for him to enter her home. While he’s snooping through her home she returns earlier than expected, and there’s a moment where he hides in the shower as the show tries to build up the suspense of him getting caught.
Beck is an aspiring writer and she’s performing her poetry later that night. Joe stalks her while she’s at the bar. She performs and nobody likes her poetry. The blonde 20s something leaves the bar drunk, and the goofiest moment of the first episode happens when Drunk Beck falls on the train tracks like a damsel in distress and Joe saves her. This assured me that this show is also supposed to be a dark comedy. Can’t make this up folks. They take a taxi back to Beck’s place and Joe manages to take her phone from her, so he can spy on all aspects of her life with ease, and once they arrive they are greeted by Beck’s boyfriend Benji Ashby (Lou Taylor Pucci) to Joe’s chagrin.
At Mooney’s bookstore there’s a basement that contains this huge glass sound proof box that Mr. Mooney (Mark Blum) used when he wanted to have quiet time while reading. There’s a couple of flashbacks throughout the series that shows Mr. Mooney acting as a father figure to Joe and he would lock Joe in the box to discipline him. Creeper Joe lures Benji to the basement because he views him as an obstacle in his pursuit of Beck. Benji tells Joe that Joe isn’t a killer and Beck isn’t worth it, but Obsessive Joe is too obsessed to listen and ends up killing Benji.
The initial comparison of Joe Goldberg to Dexter Morgan from Dexter isn’t fair to the complexity of a character like Dexter. Joe is not nearly as complex or cerebral. He’s messy, and for any rational person watching this show it’s nearly impossible to root for him, even if none of the other characters are likeable. You tries it’s hardest to give Joe some sense of normalcy. He has a little kid as a neighbor named Paco (Luca Padovan) that likes to read books but his step-father Ron (Daniel Cosgrove) does not like it when Paco talks to Joe. Ron is the Doakes of this show and he thinks that Joe is a weirdo (which he isn’t wrong). Ron works as a parole-officer and when he gets home he beats Paco’s mother Claudia (Victoria Cartagena) and Paco. Their apartment building has thin walls and Joe can hear the whoopings. The pilot episode does a solid job of setting up events for the rest of the series.
The Rest and the Mess
The pilot episode wasn’t mind-blowing, but it was interesting enough for me to check out the rest of the show. There are at least two episodes that could’ve been fused into one to make the show move more fluidly. A few episodes have noticeable editing gaffes. A character will be talking to another character, and as the camera switches back and forth for reactions the character’s positions are completely misplaced. Granted, this is episodic television, so it comes with the territory.
At times logic escapes You. When Joe kills Benji he stores his body in the trunk of his car. The body has been decomposing in Joe’s little glass box of death for a couple of days and there’s fluid slowly oozing out of it. Yet when Beck’s friend Peach (Shay Mitchell) is sick and needs to go to the hospital, Joe lets her and Beck ride in the backseat of the whip and Peach can smell odors coming from the body. Beck never mentions it and tries to act as if she does not smell anything. The counterpoint is there are moments throughout You that the show does a phenomenal job at escalating the stakes and raising the “Ohhhh 💩 He’s About to Get Caught” Factor. One scene in particular is when Stalker Joe follows his now girlfriend Beck and Peach take a staycation to Peach’s family estate that is an hour away from New York. Stalker Joe stalks but he’s already got hands laid upon him by Ron so he is suffering from a concussion. He keeps seeing and talking to what appears to be a ghost of his ex-girlfriend Candace Stone (Ambyr Childers). He hits a deer while driving at night and gets pulled over as soon as he wakes up the next morning. Good thing he’s a sociopath with a bit of privilege so he’s able to talk Officer Nico (Michael Maize) out of giving him a ticket. I’m saying, Joe looks suspicious as hell that I can’t even chalk him getting away to it just being a TV show because some cops just can’t see obvious signs.
Once Joe arrives at the estate his worries that Peach wants to be more than friends with his girlfriend Beck is confirmed. The fact that everyone on this show has money, yet won’t invest in a security system nor lock their doors is
plot device too convenient. Concussed Creeper Joe is in the estate the whole weekend without anyone noticing. He manages to pee in a jar and leaves it sitting on a dresser. Peach and Beck end up arguing which results to Peach staying at the estate solo because Beck is tired of her shit. Once Peach catches Joe at the estate she thinks Joe is her stalker. The two get into a scuffle and Peach turns into cobbler when Joe shoots and kills her.
Shay Mitchell’s performance as Peach is the strongest female performance on the show. Her character is hateable yet she’s one of the few characters that seems like an actual human being, a rich stuck-up snobby one but an actual person nonetheless. Of the five people we see Joe kill, she’s the only one that puts up a fight on-screen. Peach has her issues when it comes to her feelings for Beck, but like Ron she realizes that there’s something wrong with Joe and his Mr. Perfect facade. She’s far from an angel because she ruins her friends lives, she’s manipulative and just as dangerous without physicality unlike other characters on the show. I’ve never watched Pretty Little Liars, which is what Shay Mitchell is known for, but from what I’ve heard her character on that show is pretty much the same character on You. With that said she was a perfect choice for the role of Peach.
Guinevere Beck & Joe Goldberg: A Tragedy
“You… you are him. You are the bad thing that you should’ve killed… You are not special, you are broken. I could never love YOU.” – Guinevere Beck
During the last two episodes of You, Beck finds all of Joe’s trophies (photo 1), so he does what any obsessive controlling stalker would do, and locks her up against her will (photo 2). She tries to escape so he kills her. Before we get to that point, the show does not present Beck as an angel. She and Joe breakup because there’s no trust in their relationship unbeknownst to her that her boyfriend is a stalker. There’s an episode where she gets to narrate for half the episode and the show would’ve been better off if she narrated the full episode or not at all. Joe suspects that Beck’s cheating on him with her therapist, Dr. Nicky (John Stamos), which we later found out she did indeed. Three months later Joe moves on and is happy with his new girlfriend, Karen Minty (Natalie Paul), but
homeBecker homewrecker Beck manages to cause Joe and Karen to breakup.
For most of the series Elizabeth Lail’s acting is serviceable. She has her moments where she is interesting, but a lot of the times her acting seems flat. Compared to other actresses on You like Natalie Paul and Shay Mitchell, Lail doesn’t seem as seasoned. Her best work in the series comes during the last episode when she monologues to Joe after locking him in the glassbox. The way that Lail says, “You… you are him. You are the bad thing that you should’ve killed… You are not special, you are broken. I could never love YOU,” with conviction and disgust, was by far her best acting during the series.
The character of Beck’s life is a complete mess at the beginning of the show. She went from her poetry being booed, to not having any prose for her MASTERS IN FINE ARTS, to writing about the death of her father, who isn’t really dead to peaking as an author once Joe murders Peach because she is able to write her best work about Peach’s death. What makes Beck a complex part of You isn’t necessarily her. She’s gassed up from the start because Joe is narrating about how beautiful she is and all these good qualities about her that the audience doesn’t see. She is extremely naive and shallow when it comes to all the obvious red flags. She lies to him, she cheats on him, she doesn’t even take her masters program seriously. You spotlights all of these flaws to amplify the obsessiveness that Joe has for her. He even tells her there’s not line that he will not cross for her. Yet there are people who view Joe as some sort of hero and think that Beck does not deserve that kind of attention from Joe. Check out the tweet below:
People that actually like Joe Goldberg or do not think he’s the villain of You are opps. These are the type of problematic people you’ve got to look out for. Beck’s monologue during the last episode does a spectacular job at pointing out that her wrongs are nowhere near his. He spends the whole show stalking her, manipulating her, calls out Peach for stalking Becks while he is stalking Beck, and he murders two people in her life so he can be with her. None of Beck’s mishaps come close to those of Joe. The man is a psychopath and killing Ron for Paco still doesn’t justify his behavior. During Season One of You there isn’t any kind of gray area that can convince you that Joe Goldberg is some sort of anti-hero like Dexter Morgan, The Punisher or Walter White. His behavior from the show’s pilot is grimey, and by the end of the season it just gets worse.
From an actor standpoint Penn Badgley’s performance as Joe Goldberg is compelling. I did not watch Gossip Girl so I am not familiar with his work but he does a marvelous job on You. He has the crazy-stalker look that you see on the news on an article starting with the headline of “Florida Man…” Salute to him for reminding people that his character is not to be liked.
Usually, when it comes to content that is originally presented on Netflix it’s only good for memes or it’s immensely overhyped, but You delivers on a pretty fun experience. If you’re thinking about watching the show then it’s better if you view it as a satirical psychological-thriller-dark comedy. There’s social commentary scattered throughout the series. There’s commentary on the Me Too movement, the show raises awareness for viewers to think twice because of stalkers, and the conversation on the show has people telling on themselves. For a show that originally aired on Lifetime this was better than I expected. It’s not too Lifetime-y and most of the acting is good. The last 3 minutes of the finale was probably my least favorite part of the series. The big twist at the end felt like it was shoehorned in just to setup a second season. Season 2 is supposed to be based on Caroline Kepnes novel Hidden Bodies so it’s going to be interesting to see how that turns out.
[All Mames Wey]