The Problem with "You"

Out of nowhere, everyone was talking about You. You, a thriller series originally broadcast on Lifetime, was distributed through Netflix earlier this year. Discussion of the series began to creep into my daily conversations.

“We binge watched it. Oh my god, it was terrifying.”--[lkmn

“I can’t watch it alone!”

“Dan from Gossip Girl is in it. I think he’s being typecast.” 

You is the story of Joe (Penn Badgley), a bookstore manager who develops an obsessive crush on a young writer named Beck (Elizabeth Lail). He is able to use internet technology to learn about Beck’s life and build a relationship with her that seems organic all while eliminating anything that stands in the way of their love. As his obsession becomes progressively stronger, his actions become sinister. Caroline Kepnes, who authored the book the series is based on, said that the inspiration for the story came from how much we can learn about people through their online presence.

I had no desire to watch this show brought to us by the network responsible for Devious Maids and Mother May I Sleep with Danger?  However, I was peer pressured. I sat down in front of my friend’s laptop holding a slice of peer pressure pizza. The fact that Caroline Kepnes was involved in the project gave me some comfort. This comfort evaporated after fifteen minutes or so.

While Joe’s ability to stalk Beck using her social media presence was undeniably creepy, it was hard to empathize with her. This is because she is the stupidest person I have ever seen on television. What kind of human living in the year 2019 does not password protect any of their electronic devices? Beck, that’s who. Who does not lock their front door? Also Beck. Who never shuts their blinds and allows random people on the street to watch them get dressed, masturbate, and sleep with various men? You guessed it. Beck. I could not seem to suspend my disbelief enough to become invested. Nothing Joe does is normal or okay, but Beck’s technological tomfoolery gives the sociopath one less hurdle to leap over. She is low hanging fruit for a stalker.

While Beck infuriates me, You as a whole does have some interesting qualities. The show manages to successfully blur the lines between hero and villain. Joe uses people’s information against them, learning how to impersonate or destroy people in Beck’s life. On the other hand, he invests a great deal of energy into protecting his young neighbor, Paco (Luca Padovan) from his stepfather’s damaging behavior. Paco’s stepfather is an abusive alcoholic but he sees Joe for what he really is. Beck’s friend Peach (Shay Mitchell) is very observant and suspicious of Joe’s behavior but only because she is classist and does not think Beck should be with someone of a lower socioeconomic status.

I struggle to find a character to root for. As a viewer, I feel myself leaning towards Joe. Then I remember he is a literal psychopath. I lean towards Beck. Then I remember she’s the dumbest human alive. I juggle different characters, trying to weigh their flaws against their redeeming qualities, only to break even. The characters are complex, as are real people.

 

If I choose to complete the series, it will not be because the “social media is dangerous” message feels real, it will be because the characters have multifaceted flaws that make for interesting television.

 

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