“You” is a thrill ride that takes the typical psychological drama and turns it on its head.
The series, developed by Greg Berlanti, stars Penn Badgley as Joe, a seemingly mild-mannered bookstore manager who finds infinite comfort in the literature he sells. The series begins when Joe meets Beck, played by Elizabeth Lail, and instantly becomes obsessed with her. The show devolves quickly into this odd twist on the psychological thriller. Beck and Joe’s lives become entwined in an artificial way constructed by Joe and he goes to extreme measures to maintain the relationship.
The series is based on a relatively new novel by Caroline Kepnes with the same title, and it plays out much like a novel. Throughout the series, the audience hears the inner monologue of Joe as he describes, sometimes in graphic detail, his wicked mind and his snaking train of thought. He comments on everything from the rude passerby on the street to his incredible love for Beck. This use of narration is quite uncommon in the modern era of television and film and is a welcome change. The narration makes the series feel quite literary in its delivery which plays well into the theme of both main characters.
When the audience is first exposed to Joe’s particular brand of crazy, they are meant to feel with Joe in a way. He is simply a mentally ill man who’s head over heels for this incredible grad student and aspiring writer. This is a deliberate reduction of what Joe actually is. Joe is bonkers, and his actions as the series unfolds clearly show this. However, the show’s writers make the audience bond with Joe first before showing him do a truly heinous act. For the first few episodes, Joe merely observes Beck from afar after she visits his bookstore. Now, to be clear, in doing so, he does some truly crazy obsessive things, including stealing digitally stalking her social media, stealing her phone, and standing outside her apartment pleasuring himself while she has sex with her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Benji. The social crimes committed quickly escalate into crimes of passion.
While the series mostly focuses on Joe, Beck’s portrayal is also one of note. Most of her friends are exceedingly vapid, almost to the point of caricature. She has three close friends: Peach, a socialite with sexual identity issues, Annika, an “internet influencer” with body image issues, and Lynn, an alcoholic with no defined occupation. Their characterization is intentionally hollow. It’s a technique used in novels to shine light on the main characters and even in television, but in “You,” it’s taken to an extreme. The other characters have either no development at all or are murdered by the end of the season.
The important thing to take away from the show is that everyone has this kind of behavior inside them, even if it’s way deep down. “You” shows that the smallest drop of that chemical called love can quickly evolve into a horrific obsession into another person’s life. “You” receives an A-minus rating.