Despite its simple title, “You” is anything but. The series, which originally aired on Lifetime and is an adaptation of a novel, follows the twisted love story of Joe and Beck. The opening sequence begins with a sickeningly sweet voiceover from Joe, where he narrates Beck walking through his bookstore.
She is seen scanning the aisles in slow motion, with a perfectly messy bun and simple button-down, the stereotypical bookworm girl aesthetic featured in rom-coms. But “You” is nothing near a light-hearted romance. The series is a gripping, fast-paced thriller; even the ending provides no relief, only a mind-bending cliffhanger.
The viewer is in Joe’s head for the entirety of the show. Most of the scenes are composed of his voiceovers, giving the audience a look into his mind as he becomes increasingly obsessed with Beck. I have always had an intense hatred for voiceovers because, in my experience, 90 percent of the time they are wildly unnecessary and are only used to explain a big theme to the viewer, which in turn makes me feel stupid. The show or movie should be able to portray the overarching ideas without relying on the crutch of explaining it bluntly to a viewer.
However, in the case of “You,” the voiceover just happens to be part of the meager 10 percent. Joe’s constant narration, which is addressed to Beck at all times, shows viewers his need to justify his creepy and illegal actions. We are able to understand what drove Joe to do the things that he did, and it provides us with a very intriguing look at his psyche.
The one-sided relationship begins with Joe stalking Beck when he learns her address after googling her name when she visited the bookstore. He then learns about Beck’s entire personal life through a series of perverted acts, including spying on her while she has sex and eavesdropping on her while she drinks at a bar. After a few weeks of Beck being unknowingly followed by the other half of her bookstore meet-cute, Joe saves her life by pulling her away from some train tracks.
Finally, Beck and Joe begin their relationship and the viewer can feel relief at knowing the stalking has come to an end, or so you would think. In actuality, Joe continues to follow Beck constantly (when does this guy actually run his bookstore?), even going as far as stalking her a few hours out of town when she goes to visit her family mid-series. He is only caught by Beck when his employee outs him by telling her best friend that he was at the same event she was. Still, Joe manages to weasel his way out with his frustratingly clever excuses, and their relationship continues.
So, why did I feel the need to watch this entire series in a 24-hour period? My answer is simple: Joe. Joe is one of the most interestingly complex characters that I have ever come across. He is shown in extremely raw and terrifying lights, but also in sweet and loving ones, like his relationship with Paco.
Paco is the son of Joe’s neighbor who spends most nights sitting on the steps outside their door because his mom and her boyfriend are in a screaming match. Joe brings Paco new books to pass the time when he is kicked out and also buys him food, as his mother frequently forgets to feed him. Joe provides companionship, entertainment, shelter and food to the boy, despite being a deranged murderer. In moments like these, it is easy for the viewer to forget the horrendous things Joe has done and feel almost as if he is a good person.
This moral oscillation was the draw of the series for me. As frustrating as it was, I loved having these mixed feelings about Joe throughout, because it meant that the show was quality. The writers want to show us Joe’s vulnerability so that, sometimes, we start to believe his justifications along with him, which ultimately makes you feel nearly as insane as the character himself.
Although “You” is highly addictive and has excellent elements, its downsides are also worth noting. There is a strong focus on social media and millennials having online personas throughout the series. While it is done cleverly at times, on many instances it feels ham-fisted.
At this point, I think every millennial is well-aware that we are addicted to our electronic devices, that we put our best selves online and that privacy on social media is non-existent. Because every episode of “You” reiterates this theme, the tone can feel preachy. Though at times annoying, the theme is necessary to highlight Joe’s holier-than-thou personality: He doesn’t believe in social media and degrades everyone, specifically Beck and her friends for being addicted, yet he is the one with the serious psychological issues.
Another large issue that I and others had was that none of the characters were likable. Don’t get me wrong, the world needs unlikable characters to be realistic, but “You” has a severe lack of names to root for. Many viewers agreed that there were only a few minor characters that were likable, including Paco, Karen and Ethan.
But those few minor players are not enough. Although Joe has good, he is overall pretty unlikable and, in all honesty, Beck is the most frustrating character of all. At certain points, I disliked her so strongly that I really did not care what happened to her. Beck is incredibly pretentious, claims to be overworked but procrastinates, hates her friends but hangs with them anyway and cheats on Joe multiple times. Plus, after cheating on Joe, she gives the god-awful excuse of “being scared to receive love” and “running away from happiness.”
As Beck admits herself, she is a mess. But here’s the thing: I think a messy character is interesting and has the potential to be likable and redeemable. However, Beck does not fall under this category. I never sympathized with her, which upset me as a viewer, because I really wanted to root for her.
If I could change anything about “You,” I would sprinkle in redeemable moments for Beck to make the watcher even more angered at Joe’s actions. If they made Beck more amiable, the viewer would be able to be all the more emotionally invested in the series, which would make the show near perfect in quality.
Like any series, “You” has its strengths and weaknesses, but I still loved it. It’s a show that hooks you almost immediately and is able to keep up that fast pace throughout. Though it ends on a massive cliffhanger, you will not have to worry about dangling off that edge forever because there has indeed been a confirmation of a Season 2.