“Gossip Girl” alum, Penn Badgley, made his valiant return to the small screen this year, essentially playing an escalated, exaggerated Dan Humphrey all over again.
“You” premiered on Lifetime in September but started streaming on Netflix in January. Netflix has since acquired the rights to a second season. The psychological thriller is based on the 2014 book of the same name by Caroline Kepnes. The general synopsis, without giving too much away: Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy stalks girl’s every move, breaks into her home, is physically violent towards her loved ones and keeps a box of her things hidden in the ceiling of his bathroom. You know, just typical rom-com stuff.
In all seriousness, “You” is a dark, suspenseful, addictive stalker-drama. Badgley makes his clearly psychotic character, Joe, come to life. Audiences had a difficult time deciding where their sympathy lay, as the narration from Joe made many of his bizarre actions seem almost justified. In only 10 episodes, the creators of the show, along with Kepnes as a consulting producer, captivated viewers with crazy scenario after crazy scenario in which Joe tries to simultaneously protect and woo love interest Guinevere Beck, played by Elizabeth Lail.
There are romantic-comedy undertones, and we see similar tropes and scenarios, but everything is shadowed in Joe’s dark obsession with Beck. It’s explicit and sexual and uncomfortable. Every sweet gesture he makes for Beck is outweighed tenfold by an action that crosses the line. Kidnapping, murder, breaking and entering, theft, digital stalking—the show really has it all. Joe makes all of Beck’s friends and family out to be monsters at the root of her problems, when in reality he has a major negative impact on her life. In his attempt to save her from herself, Joe is Beck’s downfall.
Taking place in New York City, there’s plenty of action to keep you on the edge of your seat. The show seamlessly transitions between Joe’s interactions with his present-day neighbor and her abusive boyfriend and flashbacks of his past, where he was the victim of abuse himself, in the very same bookstore he would come to manage later in life. Joe runs the bookstore and “Beck” wants to be a writer, a match that would appear to be made in heaven. But he is possessive, and follows Beck out of the city, to a family vacation and her friend’s house in Connecticut.
“You” provides a unique insight into the human psyche and emotions. The show explores the mind of a dangerous man, the types of predator your mother warns you about. It also opens up a conversation about white male privilege, and the people society tend to typecast as criminals. Joe’s instability makes you wonder, and Beck’s lack of awareness makes you second guess your own surroundings. The toxic use of social media is terrifying and all too real in today’s day and age. “You” ultimately finds its success building off of the psychological crime thrillers that are taking over television right now. Badgley has already proved his expertise at playing the quiet, bookish guy following people around New York, but with his new character Joe, he leaves audiences chilled and begging for a second season.
Julia Mancini is the associate life editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at Julia.firstname.lastname@example.org.