Addicted to “YOU”

Netflix examines the darker face of love with its hit new series “YOU”. The problematic premise of the stalker’s perspective in love might be just what you are looking for this Spring (especially after Valentine’s Day). Based on the novel by Caroline Kepnes the story begins when Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) falls head over heels with aspiring writer Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail) when she walks into Joe’s bookstore, Mooney’s. Innocent banter between the two is exchanged, and in Joe’s eyes, a rapport is formed.
The traditional boy meets girl love story stops there, and the psychological thriller ensues when Joe proceeds to stalk Beck after their encounter, first digitally then physically.
The stalking is narrated through Joe’s charmingly casual voice as he rationalises everything he does for the benefit of Beck. From following her through college to stealing her underwear, to excising toxic people from her life, it is all done in the name of Love. Joe goes above and beyond the typical anti-hero, and whether he can redeem himself is continually tested as he becomes increasingly creepier, escalating from stalker to kidnapper, to murderer.
Despite the obvious flaws in Joe’s character he differs from the rest of his narcissistic, social media addicted, approval seeking generation. What makes Joe compelling, and not immediately hated, is that the rest of the characters are mainly spoiled rich twenty-somethings living in New York. Beck’s best friend Peach Salinger (Shay Mitchell) is a less psychotic, but equally controlling version of Joe, who relishes in manipulating Beck and all her friends. Benji (Lou Taylor Pucci), Beck’s on again off again boyfriend, is the epitome of rich hipster douchebaggery, providing comic relief and more importantly, entertaining Joe’s warped world view. Even Beck, the would-be hero, can be a self-absorbed liar, more concerned about being remarkable in her writing than the people in her life.
“YOU” can be outlandish at times, bordering the line between the fantastic and the downright silly. Questions can arise about the plausibility of character actions and plot if given enough time to think. However, the show never gives the viewer enough time to think. The audience has hardly enough time to recover from the last gasped breath, as the plot twists and hairpins, increasing the stakes ever higher.
To portray “YOU” just as a silly, fast-food equivalent, comedic thriller does the show a disservice. Its accurate observations of contemporary dating rituals told through modern technology makes for a laugh-out-loud experience. To the show’s credit, it never takes itself too seriously, even when dealing with sensitive content. Every time the viewer is led down the traditional tropes of romcoms or romantic dramas, it is undercut with either humour or horror. Showrunner Serra Gamble explains to the NY times that Joe is based off the archetypical “classic male romantic hero”, and that they “erected this image to burn it to the ground”. The remnants of these ashes leave the audience with a message to decipher; is the classic notions of romantic love synonymous for addiction?
Addiction is a significant theme throughout the show, all the characters present some aspect of addiction, be it love, drugs, or social media. The show itself was created to be consumed at an addict’s voracious pace. This could be considered an intentional meta-analysis of the addicting nature of millennial’s consumption of media, by the show’s creators Sera Gamble and Greg Berlanti.
“YOU” need not share Beck’s insecurities of being ‘unremarkable’. The show may be criticised for being over the top, bizarre, and silly, but boring it is not. Season 2 is set to release later this year