This could turn into a whole self justifying dissertation about how I love You for being a timely exploration of toxic masculinity. And it’s true, the series doubles as a fantastic Shitty Man exposer. If you haven’t watched You, and a guy you know says “What Joe did was bad but Beck did kind of deserve it,” know that that guy has revealed himself as a Shitty Man and it behooves you to take whatever precautions you think are necessary. But I’m not really interested in that. I love You because it’s just plain trashy.
At this point the show is in the public zeitgeist, and everyone already knows it’s about a outwardly nice guy named Joe who falls for and stalks a woman named Beck. And things get pretty nuts. He even kidnaps her boyfriend and imprisons him in a glass cage. NOT a spoiler by the way, that’s Episode 1. You is That Escalated Quickly: The Series.
Slow burn dramas aren’t really possible in this era of TV oversaturation, you’ve got to keep asses in the seats before they move onto something else. Even Breaking Bad, which is about a meek guy turning into a drug kingpin, has to start out with Walt having to dispose of a drug dealer’s body before it start its slow burning. You embraces that it has to always be sensational at all times, starting with some series finale level events and then getting bigger from there. The show has a phenomenal sense of how to capture your interest and keep you riveted. It’s the best paperback you’ve ever swiped from a dollar store bin.
There’s something new and insidious about Joe’s particular brand of stalking. You might expect him to be this really controlling guy who manipulates Beck and shapes her into his perfect girlfriend. What he does instead is mould himself into somebody Beck can’t help but fall in love with. Which is something that people do, man or woman. Not always intentionally, not as drastically, and not with methods as sophisticated as Joe’s. But who hasn’t tried to play themselves off as cooler or smarter than they actually were to try and be attractive to someone else? Who hasn’t peaked at the social media of someone they were trying to get to know better? Who hasn’t clashed with their new beau’s protective friends? That’s what makes You so compelling. It goes to some insane places but there’s a baseline of uncomfortable recognizability.
The idea of a “water cooler show” took a long nap, but You is a potentially exciting new iteration of that concept. It made no kind of impact as a weekly Lifetime show, but as soon as it hit Netflix I started hearing people rave about it, I saw people reading the book in diners. So I saw the show for myself and started telling everyone I knew about it too. That kind of communal TV experience had been fading away as time went on and anything that can bring it back is worth applauding.
If I Had to Nitpick: The sequel baiting. Really just the fact that there’s going to be a second season at all. Letting this stand alone as a complete series makes a statement. It’s a tragedy. It ends in the death of a character who, for all her complicated qualities, made an impact in our lives. Elizabeth Lail ought to be able to use the series as a springboard to bigger things. Instead she’s going to be stuck in a thankless Ghost Beck role haunting and taunting Joe as he goes about his business, because TV these days can’t stand to let important characters be gone. The absence of someone like Beck should be felt and it should hurt, and that’s not going to be the case.
This is purely just speculation, but lets not kid ourselves. A second season of this show is not going to be as good.