You Netflix (2018) TV Series (season 1) Review

The first season of the American psychological thriller television series You, based on the novel of the same name by Caroline Kepnes, was ordered by Lifetime on April 2017.The 10-episode first season, which premiered on September 9, 2018, was produced by A&E Studios, in association with Alloy Entertainment, Berlanti Productions, and Warner Horizon Television; the showrunners were Greg Berlanti, Sera Gamble and Leslie Morgenstein.

Plot

In her recap of the final episode, Jessica Goldstein asked exactly this question, and comes away with an unequivocal no, it is not good. “It feels like You wants to be edgy and subversive. But a story that gives a violent male character a full, complicated history (or, I should say, attempts to do that) while never revealing more about its female character beyond what said male character can discern and/or chooses to project onto her is not subversive, at all,” Goldstein writes. “Was it necessary — was it even remotely good television — for an entire episode to be devoted to Beck’s being psychologically tortured until she gets killed?”

Goldstein’s further point is that it doesn’t matter that You tried to undermine and satirize all of the romance plots that are culturally coded as sweet, but which are actually abusive, manipulative nonsense. Because in the act of satirizing them, You also straight-up replicates them. It is still giving Joe the voice and making Beck the victim. It is still centering Joe’s perspective, even as it’s trying to turn him into a monster. Badgley’s performance is as a highly charismatic, magnetic murderer, which means that while you’re watching him be a murderer, you’re also watching him be magnetic. It’s a point that’s hard to argue, especially given how much time Penn Badgley, the actor who plays Joe, has spent on Twitter trying to dissuade the show’s fans from falling in love with a psychotic, misogynistic killer.

You is a show about a dude who stalks, tortures, and kills people, in a TV landscape that is already full-up with objectified, tortured, and/or dead women. The existence of any part of the show’s audience who finds Joe attractive is pretty incontrovertible evidence that on some level, the show’s attempt to undermine Joe fails. You is a ripe target for bad fandom, for viewers who misread the show for their own ends and blithely ignore that every character is supposed to be a loathsome monster. (Yes, even Beck.)

And yet. That first question, the question about whether the finale is well-made, whether it follows on what the beginning of the season started, whether the performances are good, whether the twist makes sense, whether it sets up a second season, whether it is an entertaining hour of TV… in spite of everything, the answer to that question might still be yes. Everything that happens in the final episode is the fitting and inevitable conclusion of what You warned us would happen from the first moments of the pilot. If the show’s central engine is to demonstrate the toxicity of masculine behavior when filtered through a rom-com ideology, then Beck’s death — and just as crucially, her relative voicelessness throughout the season — is the whole point. I cannot blame the show for following through on all of the things it told us would happen from the start.

I’m also loathe to cede all of You’s reception to the bad fans. It’s possible to misread everything that happens in the finale and insist that Joe’s still attractive, but it’s also clear that misreading is totally counter to everything the show tells us. It makes sense to see Beck as one more dead girl on TV and Joe as one more monstrous anti-hero, but that means flattening all the deliberate, skin-crawling contradictions the first season establishes, the connection we’re meant to draw between Joe’s loving words and his violence, the fact that all of this is sort of a farce, and that Candace being alive at the end is a good twist! I have no idea how You season two will play out, but a woman who knows Joe’s true nature and returns from the dead so she can confront him seems like a good start.

Even if this particular show’s goal is to satirize and puncture our collective mythologizing of the attention-worthy violent man, it makes sense to feel like TV would be better if it took a break from violent men like Joe for a bit. But that’s a broader question about the whole show, and about its cultural goodness on a scale separate from its storytelling. If the question is just about the end, and whether that ending is well-made, then the conclusion of You’s first season is everything the show had been building toward all along. Joe kills Beck, as we always knew he would. The performances work (Hari Nef forever!), and it’s an appropriate culmination for a show that’s been telling viewers from its very first moments that its protagonist is a dangerous, untrustworthy killer.

Crucially, it’s also not really the end. You’s final word is not that Joe succeeds, toxic masculinity is the route to romantic happiness, and Beck was too dumb to live. Its last gesture is Candace’s return, suggesting that Joe’s comeuppance is yet to come. I have to believe that the worm will turn in season two, and that Joe will finally face some consequences. His fate hovers over him like the Sword of Damocles, and if You lets him escape in its final endgame, it’ll have become a bleaker and less self-aware show than I’d hoped. For right now, though, I’m happy for the season to end with Joe thinking he’s gotten away with it all, blind to what’s to come.

MY Personal Thoughts

You is about a stalker and frankly, this was not a show I expected to like. But I did. I mean, I actually found it to be quite delightful in a very weird and twisted way.

Season 1 is now on Netflix and please don’t be discouraged by the fact that this was originally on Lifetime. There are plenty of very dark (and brutal) scenes in You

Also, the Stalker himself (Penn Badgley of Gossip Girl) is the narrator. This alone makes for some strange information since we get to hear his thoughts. Most of them are very intelligent and rational. Until they’re just not!

After all, the guy is a full-blown stalker.

Get into the mind of a stalker

Since the star of You, Penn Badgley, is also the narrator, we really do get a different point of view. Penn Badgley stars as Joe Goldberg, who is a bigtime stalker. He uses the Internet for research, but also good old detective work by following his victims.

Or, you know, just wait outside her apartment and stare! Or get access to her apartment while she’s away by pretending to be a concerned neighbor, who believes he smells a gas leak.

With Stalker Joe as the narrator, we get right into the mindset of the “bad guy”. And yes, it feels very weird to call him a bad guy in quotation marks, but somehow it’s also fitting.

To help explain, I should tell you that it feels like You was made in the vein of Dexter. Well, except this time the guy isn’t quite as aware of how sick he is. Dexter Morgan knew he had issues – the main one being a serial killer with a set of rules to follow.

In that sense, You is like a hybrid between The Bates Motel and Dexter.

Now, come on, doesn’t that sound like something you should check out? Yes, it does. And yes, you really should.

The victim of a Stalker

For You to work, the stalker of the story needs to find someone to stalk. And does he ever. When he first sees Guinevere Beck (or just Beck), it is love at first sight for him. To be fair, she does also seem to find him somewhat cute and interesting.

The really creepy part is when you hear Joe’s thoughts. He analyzes every move she makes and word she speaks as if her every action is just for him. It’s the kind of sick explanations you hear from predators of women and children in real life.

This means it’s scary and also feels very realistic. Maybe these aren’t thoughts your average Joe (yeah, pun intended) has, but they are actual excuses given by creeps.

Also, Joe is a creep. He’s just also a very kind and loving person to most people. Well, as long as they don’t get between him and his victim. Oh, I mean, his “one true love”. If they do, then he is every bit as scary and brutal as Dexter Morgan himself.

And how about this girl?

The role of Beck is played by Elizabeth Lail. She was in the Freeform show Dead of Summer from 2016, which was also pretty dark. This time around it’s a different kind of darkness.

For me, the fascinating part of You is getting to know Beck as well. She’s probably a pretty typical girl, but she reacts in ways that are not always what you would expect. She keeps on surprising both Joe and the audience.

Also, I did like that Joe was very laid back about his “one true love” having casual sex with others, even after they start dating rather casually. Instead of going stalker-crazy, he simply seems to treat this as another challenge.

For once, slut-shaming is never on the table. In fact, his only comment when listening to Beck and her friends talking is that they seem to be treating sex a bit too casually. Joe is more of a romantic, but also very aware of how the world works today.

Shay Mitchell in a new kind of role

I do have to mention one of Beck’s friends. Her name is Peach Salinger and yes, of course, she’s related to author J.D. Salinger. Peach is rich, spoiled and both a friend and not really. Also, she’s portrayed by Shay Mitchell from Pretty Little Liars.

It’s pretty obvious that she’s interested in Beck as more than just a friend. Fortunately, Joe doesn’t quite see this during the first three episodes. But I expect he will later on, which could spell the end of Peach.

For now, I love seeing Shay Mitchell get to play a character with awesome bitch-vibes. Oh yeah, Peach knows she’s a bitch. She just doesn’t care that much since it’s rarely a problem for her.

Remember, she’s rich and wants for nothing really. Well, except for Beck, it seems.

Strong team as the creators of You

You was created by Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble. They both have a lot of experience with writing and producing TV shows. 

Most recently, Greg Berlanti was the director the LGBT “coming out”-movie of Love, Simon. Of course, this is hardly a horror or thriller story – except for closeted people, maybe. But Greg Berlanti also writes and produces several DC Comics shows like Legends of Tomorrow and the animated Constantine: City of Demons

Sera Gamble has been writing for Supernatural where she is also an executive producer. Also, she’s an executive producer on The Magicians, which she created for television. 

For both Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble, You seems to be a much darker and more brutal story than their past productions. But three episodes in, they certainly aren’t shying away from going all-in on the horror elements. Kudos to them!

And soon Season 2 of You will be out on Netflix from December 26, 2019. And after watching it I will be review season 2 and I am so excited about it.

I will rate this TV Series 7/10.

Starring Penn Badgley Elizabeth Lail Luca Padovan Zach Cherry Shay Mitchell
Country of originUnited States
No. of episodes10
Release
Original networkLifetime
Original releaseSeptember 9 –
November 11, 2018
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