Why is You such a good show? Start Here

Joe Goldberg and Love Quinn

Whether it is the sardonic narration or absolute amusement at Joe Goldberg’s justifications of his actions, the show You has been a success. To say that it was a success would be an understatement as its first season boasts a viewership of 43 million viewers on Netflix, a number that was surpassed by its second season. Well, whatever the reason might be, it seems to be working as the show is renewed for a fourth season.

Though psychological thrillers about stalker/serial killer protagonists have been made before, You is an anomaly in the online discourse it has generated. It garnered polarizing responses with some romanticizing the detestable behavior of the protagonist while others took to condemning him for his crimes. It was almost as if the public had watched two different shows.

Nonetheless, the acclaim of Penn Badgley starter You is not without reasons because its social commentary, if you perceive there to be one, somehow resonated with the people.

You blurs the line between accepted romantic tendencies portrayed in Hollywood and obsessive love in reality

Beck (Elizabeth Lail) and Joe (Penn Badgley) | Netflix

Most of the romantic comedy movies in Hollywood tend to follow the pattern of ‘boy meets girl and boy chases after the girl and pesters her until she relents’. The perseverance of a romantic lead in a rom-com would not translate well to reality, where it would be rightfully viewed as creepy and stalkerish.

You begins like a harmless love story, where the nerdy bookstore manager, Joe Goldberg, meets a pretty, well-read girl, Beck, and falls in love with her. However, in his relentless pursuit of her affections, he turns the table on idealistic romance tropes as he increasingly becomes criminal with each episode.

But even with the odds stacked against sympathy for Joe, most of the audience found themselves rooting for him despite their good conscience. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, showrunner Sera Gamble addressed the audience’s support for Joe and stated that she was not surprised by the reaction, saying;

“There’s a very vocal contingent of fans of Caroline Kepnes’ book [on which You is based] who were like, “I heart Joe.” Essentially what she’s done is taken the classic romantic hero and just peeled back the gloss and sheen and John Cusack with the boom box and followed it to its logical conclusion. I mean, if you turn off the sappy music and turn on a David Fincher score, romantic comedies are stalker movies.”

Gamble also pointed out that “romantic comedy behavior in real life is criminal! And that was basically the starting place for the show”.

In an episode, Joe ponders over his stalkerish tendencies and compares himself to romantic comedy leads who get into similar situations. The only difference is that You does not glorify the behavior as dreamy and cute as Caroline Kepnes, the author of the novel You, told The Guardian;

“We’ve all grown up watching those movies dozens of times, in which a man pursuing a woman, and sometimes even being horrible to her, is portrayed as romantic. I wanted to look at where that would lead when taken to the extreme.”

The psychological thriller exposes the fragility of digital privacy in the age of social media

Joe Goldberg

Though it has since been established that Joe is an accomplished stalker in the show, he further uses social media to hone his stalking skills. For instance, he googles Beck and goes through her social media accounts to the point that he is able to track her home’s location.

While some may consider it harmless to search a person you just met, or anyone for that matter, on social media, one cannot deny that privacy is a relic of a time gone by in the era of social media culture. You considers the potential dangers of having one’s life posted on media sites.

“It’s really, really hard not to have a social media footprint. Even if you’re not on social media, you probably have friends that are…[Joe] uses it in the way that it was sort of intended and we follow that to some dark conclusions,” Sera Gamble told Variety.

Likewise, Greg Berlanti, the executive producer of You, shared an incident during the pitch process of the series that exemplified the lack of privacy on social media;

“We had just very casually looked up certain executives online and went in and described where their kids went to camp and the name of their housekeepers and stuff – really creepy, creepy stuff.”

Also, it should be noted that the searches Joe does online to fuel his obsession with Beck are mostly basic and he is “not a super hacker genius, crazy guy,” as put forward by Gamble to Refinery29. She added;

“Anything he does on the computer, you could do on the computer. A lot of it is stuff I do actually do.”

As seen in the show, it is both impressive and terrifying how Joe can dig out so much more about someone else’s life by just scanning through a few posts on Facebook.

Furthermore, the show exposes the dangers of having a public social media presence that can be dissected by a keen observer. It unveils the lack of digital privacy that has pretty much been normalized in today’s society where having an online presence is nothing out of the ordinary.

You dives deep into the mind of a stalker serial killer and provides an unexplored point of view

Joe Goldberg

Shows in the thriller genre are usually portrayed from the victims’ point of view focused on the circumstances that lead to the unsettling incidences. However, You differs from the wide array of movies and series in the crime/thriller genre as it provides an unexpected perspective from the perpetrator.

It dives deep into the mind of Joe and his violent tendencies. This also makes up for an interesting framing device for storytelling as the viewers are hooked on his narration and the justifications he comes up with in his head for the dreadful things he does. On getting inside Joe’s head, Gamble told Collider;

“Part of the allure of this show, for me personally, is that I really wanted to get into Joe Goldberg’s head. I really wanted to understand why he believes what he does.”

Not to mention, the grey shades of Joe’s character, as he is not entirely a cartoonish villain with no nuance, make the show much more grounded. With scenes where he is a normal person looking after a scared neighbor’s kid juxtaposed with scenes where he is a killer, the audience learns that he is a multifaceted human being like everyone else.

“It’s a trap to say that people who do terrible things are so completely different than you and I. I think there’s a capacity to do a lot of different stuff inside each one of us and we make choices. Instead of getting a nice, comfortable remove from Joe Goldberg and calling him a monster, it’s much more interesting if it feels like I’m holding the show more accountable, in a good way,” said Gamble to Collider.

Since every season so far has followed Joe’s constant stalking tendencies with his subjects of infatuation, the question of whether what is shown is accurate or not arises. Yet, Very Well Mind reports that the representation of stalking on the show is accurate according to a Professor of Forensic Psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University, Susan Hatters Friedman, MD.

However, the show also makes it evident that Joe is an unreliable narrator by showing the narration of other characters in certain episodes. Therefore, his perspective of things is not to be sympathized with.