“You” is a popular psychological thriller that has taken Netflix binge-watchers by storm. The series initially premiered on Lifetime in September of 2018 but began streaming on Netflix at the end of Dec.. I watched the first two episodes of the series to get up-to-date on the show everyone has been Tweeting and talking about since its Netflix release.
Penn Badgley plays Joe Goldberg, who manages a hipster bookstore when he isn’t busy stalking Guinevere Beck, played by relative newcomer, Elizabeth Lail.
In the same way that fans have a hard time differentiating between Daniel Radcliffe and Harry Potter, previous “Gossip Girl” viewers will have trouble seeing Badgley as anyone other than Dan Humphrey, the hopeless Brooklyn, N.Y. native in love with the pretty blonde girl. By setting up similar relationships, “You” doesn’t make it easy for viewers to forget this either.
Without giving away too many spoilers, it’s clear that the show portrays Joe as a psychopath, to some degree. Whether or not he’s a serial killer is unclear so far, but we are uncomfortable with thoughts of what he might do to Beck. This uneasiness is only amplified when the title card finally a≠ppears 10 minutes in. The word “You” fades on-screen and is slowly covered in blood. After one encounter at the bookstore, Goldberg begins stalking Beck. Through Joe’s inner dialogue and stalking, we hear a larger commentary on social media and our willingness to be seen. The amount of information Goldberg gathers about Beck, just from public profiles, is incredibly concerning. The intense voyeurism in this show is uncomfortable to sit through and should make us all concerned about our own privacy.
So why can’t viewers stop binge-watching the show? “You” creates a complex personality through Goldberg’s character. On the one hand, we know that he is dangerous. He might not want to hurt Beck, but there is a clear obsession with her that makes us uneasy. On the other hand, “You” makes Goldberg oddly appealing. He may masturbate across the street from Beck’s apartment, but only after he explains what chivalry is to his young neighbor. In addition to this, he shares his love of books with the young boy, relieving the stress of the boy’s broken home life. This odd juxtaposition confuses the audience. Do we somehow like Goldberg even though we know that he is dangerous?
This is an odd phenomenon that occurs in pop culture portrayals of crimes. For example, “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile”, the chronicle of Ted Bundy’s crimes, casts Zac Efron in the role of Ted Bundy. This casting choice alone romanticizes a serial killer and captures a charisma that makes it hard for us to believe they committed the crime. Not only does Goldberg come off as oddly likable, but he is posed as an alternative to Beck’s current relationship.
“You” follows a slew of binge-worthy Netflix series that explore material outside of classic Hollywood tropes. While this show may be romanticizing serial killers and crime instead of criticizing it, there is an apparent critique of our modern social media habits and how vulnerable they leave us.