'YOU' Is 2019's First Essential Bad-Good TV Show
Last week, over the course of four days, I got three texts from three separate people all asking basically the same question: "Should I watch YOU?"
"YES, oh my GOD," I responded to each of them, having binged my way through the show a mere few months ago, after it had originally been broadcast on Lifetime in September. Now that YOU made its way to Netflix the day after Christmas, it's taken on a second life of its own. (Kind of literally: Season 2 of YOU will be released on Netflix instead of Lifetime.) Maybe everyone finally checked out all of those handy underappreciated shows of last year lists, or maybe Netflix is just an easier way to gulp down 10 episodes of very silly mile-a-minute television, but YOU is swiftly becoming a small sensation. It might even be this year's absolutely essential bad TV show.
The premise is extremely Lifetime-y: Indie bookstore manager Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) falls in love at first sight with a customer, Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail), and will stop at nothing to become her one and only. Even if that means stealing her phone and her passwords and peeking at her walking around her large first-floor apartment (that she doesn't pay for) at night though her giant uncovered windows and following her to Renaissance fairs and kidnapping and murdering her friends. Hey, love makes you do crazy things!
The second question everyone has after asking if they ought to watch YOU is: "Is it any good?" No, it's really not. And the ending is uniquely terrible. And yet. It's so much fun. So many things happen in the first three episodes alone that you come out of it feeling like you've just watched a billion hours of television.
It's fortunate for YOU, and for you, that the show is now available to binge on Netflix, because bingeing is really the only good way to consume this kind of TV. When it was airing weekly on Lifetime, it was "that stalker show" that nobody watched but everyone had heard something about. Now, if you want to know what the TV freaks are discussing at any given moment, you gotta start YOU.
The best -- and, at times, most unsettling -- part of the show is how gradually it reveals that the main character of the show really is just insane. It's sadistically fun to watch a very dumb show whose troubled, problematic protagonist well and truly sucks. And Joe SUCKS. Gone are the days of antiheroes like Don Draper and Walter White, whose motivations, while wobbly, are generally couched in some sense of personal morality and tend to easily trick the casual viewer into taking their side. There is no denying how awful Joe is straight from the get-go. He's chronically self-centered, taking Beck's every decision as some sort of coded message only to him, slowly excising the people he doesn't like from her life. Once you spend more than a few episodes with his incessant, haughty stream-of-consciousness monologue running through your ears, he's barely even serial killer-charming.
Badgley himself has been quick to set the record straight for viewers who might be so distracted by his chiseled good looks that they forget he's a creepy, creepy dude. Even his taste in books is standard boring white guy fare! The only interesting thing about him is that he keeps an airtight torture fish tank/book jail in the basement of the book store he works at.
It makes perfect sense that someone like Joe would be attracted to someone like Beck, herself one of the blandest people to ever flit across a television screen. She's an aspiring writer in a good MFA program (which pays for her nice first-level apartment) except her work is consistently bad and goes nowhere. She gets fired from her job as a yoga instructor because she falls asleep. She doesn't actually like historical costume fairs -- which would be a weird but fun personality quirk. She just goes to them because her dad does. She doesn't want to read certain books because she's afraid they won't "live up to the hype." Joe and Beck spend the majority of their initial conversation owning a dude who walked into Joe's bookstore just to buy a Dan Brown book. (Do they… deserve each other?)
Questions like these may keep you up at night for the two or so days it takes to watch the entirety of the show's first season, each episode about 45 minutes. YOU is the perfect midwinter guilt watch: cloistered in your cozy apartment with the shades drawn and a mug of tea or cocoa or spiked cider in your clammy paws, you can snuggle deep into some blankets and watch hours of this well-acted, possibly self-aware, extremely silly story play out, safe in the knowledge that the locks on all your doors and windows are tightly closed.