Enthralling stalker drama You sees new viewership on Netflix
Television lovers all over the world were treated to an overnight sensation when the first season of You premiered on Netflix the day after Christmas. The series, which had garnered an average of 1.1 million weekly views during its original 10-episode run on Lifetime, became an instant international obsession over the holidays. Netflix announced on social media that You was on track to be watched by 40 million households within its first four weeks on the platform — a number that cannot be verified, as Netflix doesn’t make its viewing metrics available to third parties — setting forth a historic precedent that could change television for decades to come. With the second season set to start filming this month, many people are wondering what made You such a sleeper hit.
The premise is simple enough: a beautiful blonde grad student named Guinevere Beck wanders into an independent bookstore where she hits it off with Joe, the store’s charming manager. Unbeknownst to her, Joe is a complete psychopath who uses her love of social media to needle his way into her life at any cost. What transpires over the next 10 episodes is suspenseful, unnerving and, at times, downright disturbing. The way Joe — played impeccably by Gossip Girl alum Penn Badgley — is able to effortlessly stalk Beck around the city thanks to her tweets and posts is enough to give even the staunchest social media addict pause.
You allows viewers to essentially stalk the stalker. The audience follows him around as he meticulously plans every detail of his extravagant schemes and listens to his internal monologue as he tries to justify all of his deranged actions in the name of what he considers to be love. There are so many times Joe almost gets caught by one of Beck’s friends or a particularly suspicious neighbor, only to weasel his way out of it due to his superior intellect. Getting inside the mind of a person like this is extremely unsettling, but the experience also creates one of the most binge-worthy shows streaming or on television.
Something that separates You from many Lifetime originals is its careful nuance when developing its protagonist. Joe is undoubtedly the villain in the show, but the writers are determined to make him more than that. Whether he’s helping out the troubled boy-next-door or genuinely just trying to be a good boyfriend, Joe is more complicated than the stereotypical creep that is often depicted onscreen. Just like in The Sopranos and Dexter, there are certain scenes where it can be easy to forget that the main character is a ruthless, controlling sociopath. That is, until the viewers are dragged back to reality after Joe’s latest act of horror.
Perhaps one of the most valuable things about You is its masterful satire that can, unfortunately, be overlooked by many. Whether the show is poking fun at social media influencers or the painfully out-of-touch upper class, the dialogue between characters is packed with one-liners that sound like they belong in a Portlandia sketch. The biting self-awareness that the show has makes Beck and her friends’ obliviousness to their privilege even more funny when spoken aloud. The humor is subtle and can be easy to miss, but is quite a treat for those who pick up on it.
Despite its overall excellence, there are aspects of the show that one can find irritating, especially if they live in New York. Beck’s character as a whole is complicated and well-layered, but there are many times when she induces a whole lot of aggravation for everyone watching. For example, there are scenes where she gets changed and even has sex right in front of her window, almost daring some creep from the street to watch her. Had Beck simply bought curtains for her front window, the entire debacle she finds herself in might have been subverted. Her blissful unawareness continues onto the streets of Manhattan, where she fails to notice the good-looking bookstore manager standing right next to her practically everywhere she goes. There are so many signs she continues to ignore for months on end, including Joe’s increasingly freakish behavior and warnings from those who care about her.
Overall, You definitely lives up to the hype. Like Caroline Kepnes’ book of the same name, the series warns of the perils of displaying one’s life online as well as the dangers of dating in New York City. Just like Joe, there are twists lurking around every corner. The first season will leave the audience constantly guessing as to what comes next, pleading for more at the final cut to black.