Netflix’s archive of original television shows has found its new addition in You, the 2018 series developed by Greg Berlanti (Dawson’s Creek, Riverdale, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) and Sera Gamble (Supernatural). Based off the novel by Caroline Kepnes, You explores the relationship between Joe (Penn Badgley), a New York bookshop manager, and Beck (Elizabeth Lail), an aspiring writer. But instead of a fairy-tale type of romance, the show decides to focus on a more macabre aspect: day to day stalking and obsession. In fact, as the first episode begins, the viewer is transported into Joe’s reality; when Joe sees Beck for the first time, conquering her love becomes his mission, and he will be crossing every line to fulfil his desire.
The writing behind the show hits home in portraying Joe’s psychopathic tendencies, as voiceovers become a standard element throughout the whole season in which the viewer is offered a full access to Joe’s (and sometimes Beck’s) inner thoughts. Nevertheless, the season’s structure presents a lack of fluidity, as there seems to be a discrepancy between the first six episodes and the remaining four. In fact, one could divide the whole season into two separate unities; the first one focuses on the beginning of Joe and Beck’s relationship and the characters that Joe perceives as obstacles, while the second unity presents us with two time jumps that include a multitude of changes in the lives of both lead characters. It also important to notice that, while some of the situations presented by the show are fairly plausible, other plot lines and details appear forced and unrealistic (for example, Joe constantly observes Beck through her windows and she never seems to notice him).
Watching You, viewers can’t help but catch onto the evident connections to the present ‘social media era’. The use of social media platforms and the practice of what it is commonly referred to as cyber-stalking is practiced by most, if not all, of us. After Joe and Beck’s first meeting, Joe’s co-worker Ethan (Zach Cherry) suggests that Joe should be googling Beck because he knows her full name. Joe learns everything he can about Beck through her Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts, and even manages to figure out where she lives using the background of one of her pictures. Whenever Joe feels the need to research Beck, we are reminded as viewers that we partly share Joe’s behaviours by checking other people’s profiles on various platforms. In creating a discourse with the audience, You leaves us questioning our own attitudes.
Talking about You, it is also important to mention the confusion viewers may feel in observing Joe in different contexts. We are immediately made aware of the fact that Joe has psychopathic tendencies and that his actions can be of a violent nature, but he is also capable of being a charming, caring individual. For example, he is very invested in helping Paco (Luca Padovan), his neighbour’s kid, improve his difficult family situation. But it is with Beck that he manages to become his most charming self and there are plenty of ‘cute couple’ moments between the two (they even come up with a word for their relationship, the ‘everythingship’). This partly explains the conflict viewers may have concerning Joe, but it shouldn’t take away from the fact that he is a dangerous and problematic individual that shouldn’t be glorified or idealised.
Overall, You definitely focuses on a relevant topic considering present-day society, but also presents us with a reality that may disorient some viewers, especially the younger audiences. Nevertheless, the show does a great job in introducing Joe’s character, making us understand that it’s not all black or white, and just as Joe’s personality may have some more positive sides to it, this shouldn’t in any way justify his more violent behaviours.