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This psychological thriller follows Joe Goldberg, who at first glance seems like the perfect boyfriend: devoted, passionate, and a relatable mix of charming and awkward. The downside is that he’s actually an obsessive stalker willing to take extreme measures for love.
Penn Badgley, known for his role as Dan Humphrey in the original Gossip Girl, stars as the dangerously charming Joe Goldberg. In the first season Shay Mitchell (Pretty Little Liars) plays a foil to Joe Godlberg’s character. John Stamos (Full House) also makes a special appearance and is more somber than Uncle Joey has ever been. Victoria Pedretti (The Haunting of Hill House) is the powerhouse star of the second season. Disney Channel’s Jenna Ortega shows off her acting chops as a supporting character and comedian Chris D’Elia also makes an appearance.
The show is produced by Greg Berlanti (Love, Simon) and Sera Gamble (Supernatural) who also wrote the show, based on a book series by Caroline Kepnes.
The fandom surrounding You is headline-making in and of itself. From Penn Badgley warning fans against their romanticization of his character Joe on Twitter to conversations among mental health experts about the nuances of psychopathy, this psychological thriller keeps the conversation going long after the credits roll. No wonder its first season was one of Netflix’s top streamed shows (40 million viewers) in 2018.
The show invites viewers into the complex mind of Joe Goldberg, who is attractive, insightful, and happens to be a serial killer. Joe’s intimate narration places viewers smack dab in the middle of the conflicts he faces between morality and perception. If you find yourself falling for Joe, it’s hard not to swoon over his bookish quips and awkward pursuit of a girl, filmed in a bright, warm glow. Not to mention his care for the vulnerable, like when he gives his meatball sub to his kid neighbor Paco, who Joe often rescues from the stairwell while his mom argues with her abusive boyfriend.
The show sets you up to love him, while carefully easing you into the sinister reality of Joe. The music shifts and the lighting turns colder as he takes commonplace Google stalking a step too far, Before you know it, your mouth drops in disbelief as he bludgeons the douchebag competition in the head with a hammer he gracefully used earlier that day to rebind a copy of Don Quixote. But lest you get turned off too quickly, the show is quick to bring you back to the lighthearted rom-com set up of a dreamy “good guy” with the best intentions toward the girl he loves.
“It says something about how much we are willing to be patient and forgive someone who inhabits a body that looks something like mine–the color of my skin, my gender, these sorts of privileges, and how much less willing to forgive people who don’t fit those boxes,” Penn Badgley told Stephen Colbert in an appearance on The Late Show. He’s fully aware that his breakout role as Dan Humphrey is scarily similar in appeal to Joe, except without the obsession, stalking, and murderous tendencies.
You holds a mirror up to society, seamlessly covering themes like toxic relationships, gender inequality, romantic idealism, and the way we deceivingly present ourselves to others. But even with all of the heavy topics, it manages to stay entertainingly binge-able, with twists and turns that hint at its original home on Lifetime (it moved to Netflix exclusively after the first season) and playful shots at popular culture.
By the second season, we are in L.A. and introduced to a host of characters that poke fun at rich, image-obsessed millennials. But the scene stealer is Victoria Pedretti’s Love (that’s her character’s actual name, thanks to her tennis-loving parents, who gave her twin brother the name Forty). She is just as complex and intriguing as Joe and quickly became a fan favorite. The characters are well developed, and flashbacks from both Joe and Love’s past illuminate the breadth of their relationships and personal histories. For Joe, these flashbacks—which show, among other things, the abuse he endured as an apprentice at Mooney’s bookshop and his mother’s lack of love for him—provide a deeper understanding of his damaged psyche and the narratives he spins in his own mind.
By the end of the second season, Joe is in fresh territory once again, finally forced to deal with the reality of who he is, which we imagine must be a relief to Badgley. But it’s safe to say that in the third season he will continue to reveal new sides and bring fresh depth to the guy we wish we didn’t love.
Being in the mind of anti-hero Joe Goldberg is just as unsettling and addicting as the serial stalker’s own obsessions. If you’re not put off by that, it’s an entertaining social commentary that questions viewers’ perceptions of good, evil, and who deserves redemption.
That friend who you talk about everything with—maybe it’s your partner or your childhood bestie. You’ll want to feel safe enough to gush, fall in love, and root for who you want before needing to examine all the feels this show might give you. We also recommend wine for the makeshift counseling sessions after the show. Due to sexual content, violence, and the concept of the show itself, this is purely adult material for a mature audience only.
Although the first season, for the most part, followed the original book in the trilogy by Caroline Kempes (also titled You), the show’s writers veered away from the source material in the second season, changing major characteristics of important characters from the middle volume, Hidden Bodies. Book Three, You Love Me, was released in April of 2021, after filming for the third season ended, so there may be even more artistic liberties and surprises for readers to come.