Waddaya know? Lonely Boy aka Gossip Girl himself is back and this time, Penn Badgely takes on the role of yet another stalker. This time around though, instead of reporting the juiciest gossip about the Upper East Side’s rich and famous, he goes dark and plays an obsessive stalker and murderer who will stop at nothing to “protect” the love of his life. As a fan of the Gossip Girl series and the Dan Humphrey character, I was super excited to see Badgely’s return to television through the Lifetime Channel’s “You” portraying an eerily challenging role which is a departure from the goody two shoes character that he has become known for all these years.
Synopsis: Bookstore manager Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgely) was just minding his own business in his NYC bookstore when in comes graduate student Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail), and the two immediately hit it off because of their common love for literature. Unbeknownst to Beck, handing Joe her credit card with her full name only enabled him to discover everything about her and make him even more determined that they belong together — forever.
Don’t judge me too harshly when I say that throughout the season’s 10-episode run, I was mostly rooting for Joe. Yes, Joe the stalker. Joe, the serial killer. I worry about his brazen habit of breaking into homes, ‘borrowing,’ stuff, blacking out, and basically leaving his DNA all over the police to track. I was at the edge of my seat the whole time wondering if he would get caught sooner or later after each mishap because let’s face it, despite his expertise in stalking, his murder MO could use some work. Still, you have to hand it to Joe. Because he was smart and charming, he got away with a lot of stuff. He thought on his feet and even though he sometimes left a trail of suspicion, its really not enough to pin anything on him. Hands down, he was the strongest character in this series and watching him carry out his dastardly deeds was an exciting watch.
This is where it gets problematic. As opposed to Joe, the supposed victim Beck is totally unrelatable. She was a weak character who relished and advertised the hardships that she experienced to earn sympathy from her friends. She surrounds herself with rich influencers she calls friends because it uplifts her image. She acts like a damsel in distress and refuses help so that she could brag about having some pride. She has very low self esteem and flirts her way through every obstacle. She basically lazes around and moans about having no time to write because she doesn’t want to. See, as a writer myself, the reality is that its not just talent and passion that drives people to write. Writers actually need to work hard and hone their craft to become any good — something that was missing from Beck 90 percent of the time. Heck, when she was criticized for her self absorbed work, she took offense, even if it was the truth. She is possibly the worst kind of human being and it was annoying how everyone was basically obsessed with her.To her credit, she does admit that she is messed up, too often that it seems that she was using it as a get out of jail card when things got tough. She was toxic, and mixed with a person suffering a mental illness such as Joe, it was a fatal mix.
This dynamic (rooting for the villain and hating the heroine) is actually quite interesting because “You” illustrates a reality that most victims overlook. Sociopaths are charming and smart, which makes them master manipulators. They also have a single mindedness to carry out their plans successfully and that is why they make such good criminals. Penn Badgely plays his role so well. He is dark and menacing as Joe in his obsessive stalker/murderer state. He transitions back and forth into a lovesick puppy and deranged lover in the space of heartbeat so naturally that audiences actually feel sorry for him. Its really hard to hate a character like that, especially when he came from a background of betrayal and tough love.
Still, he did love Beck and he genuinely cared about Paco (Luca Padovan). It was actually quite touching to see how much he cared for his young neighbor by supplying him with good books to distract him from his reality. However, it gave me the chills when the parallels were revealed on how he was raised by Mr. Mooney and how he was orienting the boy on conflict management.
I liked how You laid out its story and how it got progressively darker as it shifted from stalking to killing. I liked the fact that Joe did not breeze through his kills, but rather dealt with some issues that could get him caught. It makes viewers take note of these lapses and wait for the other shoe to drop. Showrunners and CW alums Sera Gamble (Supernatural) and Greg Berlanti (Riverdale) definitely succeeded in setting a tone that appealed to millenials and gave the show an air of coolness in spite of its dark content.
All in all, I liked the single minded focus that You used in telling Joe and Beck’s story. It was an effective wake up call for social media enthusiasts about the dangers of oversharing. In the same vein, the series perfectly illustrated the term wolf in sheep’s clothing, which Joe basically was. He was a tormented soul looking for love but he was weird and twisted and he was willing to blur the lines between right and wrong to justify the evil things he has done. What happened to Beck can just as easily happen to anyone in this day and age where personal info is readily available. I could not wait for season 2, honestly.
Catch “You” on Netflix and add it to your list, pronto.
PS. Props to Pretty Little Liars’ Shayne Mitchell who played socialite heiress Peach Salinger. She nailed the role of Joe’s arch nemesis so effectively. Thumbs up!