If you’re like me, then you probably spent the majority of not only your winter break but also the entirety of Intersession dedicating yourself to exploring the depths of every streaming service out there. If you, indeed, are like me, then you watched You, the confusingly-named Netflix original series featuring Penn Badgley, who played the infamous Dan Humphrey on Gossip Girl.
Once again, Badgley plays an initially well-meaning book nerd from New York City who falls in love with a beautiful blonde millennial who’s slightly out of his league. Joe Goldberg, Badgley’s character, is condescending and arrogant because he owns a bookstore and doesn’t use any social media (first red flag!), but he proves to be more than just your average dislikable mansplainer — Joe becomes a homicidal stalker.
The show follows Joe in his pursuit of Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail), a yoga instructor from Nantucket with daddy issues, a genuine personality and friends whom Joe immediately deems superficial and not good for her. Joe really seems like a good person at first, though, which is why the show starts off great. Even knowing the premise, I thought maybe he was the right guy for Beck, whose excruciating experiences with men and Tinder made her vulnerable.
Joe did a great job of being kind, taking the relationship at the pace Beck needed, and being genuinely interested in her. The part of me that wanted the best for lovely Beck was telling me that they could be happy together!
But that part of me was stupid, because at the same time Joe was stealing her phone and clothes, watching her change in her apartment with binoculars (second red flag — the fact that he had binoculars in the first place), and even killing her ex-hookup, Benji Ashby. Granted, Benji was the worst ever, but he didn’t deserve to be literally murdered. And of course throughout their entire blooming relationship, Beck never spots Joe once. Maybe the one black baseball cap he wears everywhere really is just too clever of a disguise.
Peach Salinger, Beck’s best friend played by Shay Mitchell of Pretty Little Liars fame, is Joe’s second archnemesis, as she suspects him to be a strange dude right from the beginning. This is most likely because Peach is a fountain of judgment and wealth, and she doesn’t want her best friend dating a bookstore owner. Then Joe realizes that Peach is also in love with Beck, and of course he eliminates her as well.
Throughout the series, Joe murders two people. He has no psychotic backstory, and his source of trauma is an abusive caretaker who used to own the bookstore. Only during the last episode or two does Joe exhibit hints of an emotional breakdown (you know, the one that comes when you start killing people after an entire lifetime of not killing people). This seems wildly unrealistic to me, especially considering how Joe shows such real emotion toward Beck and his increasingly relevant ex-girlfriend, Candace Stone, who is mentioned in passing as having mysteriously “moved to Italy.” Either Joe should have started freaking out about his serial killer status way sooner, or he should not have been portrayed as showing honest love. At least that’s what Criminal Minds says should have happened.
In addition, You was largely narrated by Joe himself. The narration served a helpful purpose in explaining Joe’s actions to the audience. Because I guess without it, we’d think the fact that he murdered people was so weird? And even though Badgley does not have an annoying voice, I found the voiceovers to be a bit much. They contributed to the perception that Joe was level-headed, which he was definitely not. Joe was portrayed as smart, well-spoken and full of good values. But then he explained that he kept a box of Beck’s stolen stuff in his bathroom because he loved her. A bit incongruous.
Though I found the show generally pretty frustrating and not quite worth the time, it was helpful to see just how accessible we are because of the internet. Some aspects were definitely there just to move the plot quickly along: Beck’s phone didn’t have a passcode; she never shut the curtains over the window on her floor-level apartment; and no one ever happens to walk into the basement where Joe holds people hostage. But as the audience watches, Joe learns about Beck’s family, friends, job, home life and even her father’s drug addiction, all through looking her up online. To be honest it seems like something any adept social media user could do.
Many moments and characters in You were, frankly, annoying. This was most likely purposeful because of the slightly satirical nature of the show, but it became simply hard to watch after a while. If you’re looking to watch a show about 20-somethings in Manhattan, but with an uneasy and upsetting twist, watch You. If you’re looking for an ending that is unsatisfying and only serves to set up the show for another season, definitely watch You. Keep in mind that, despite my criticisms, I will almost certainly be watching the second season, and I will be just as annoyed.