If La La Land made everybody want to go and experience Los Angeles, You will make everyone want to stay as far away from New York City as possible. As the Netflix synposis states “Boy meets Girl, Boy falls for Girl…just how far will Boy go to get Girl?” and it’s pretty much about as apt a description can get for a show such as this. With elements of romance, thriller, mystery, and (of course) drama, the story kept me intrigued as I watched the entire season in 24 hours but it was really the unique cast of characters that hooked me. It’s not a perfect show, but it’s the perfect show to binge on a rainy day.
You begins as promised: with a little “meet cute” in a lil’ Mom & Pop Book Shop between aforementioned Boy and Girl (henceforth called Joe and Beck). Joe, the day manager at said book shop, notices Beck, aspiring writer in an MFA program, and the two hit it off. It’s the cliché that you’d expect, but the interesting (yes, interesting) decision that this show makes it to use near-constant narration to dictate just about everything that happens. At first, this was a huge annoyance to me. I’m a big fan of seeing things for myself in a movie or series rather than being told exactly what to think; it usually feels like an insult to intelligence and shows weakness in storytelling but I bit and stuck with it.
Once the story picked up and the exposition was behind us, this show started to feel more like it was written by somebody trying to evoke Nobokov rather than take shortcuts in narrative or rhetoric. It became something I appreciated, something that helped tie the scenes together and flesh-out the characters; it became a selling point of the show altogether. There was an instance in the latter half of the show that I almost loved as it would have explained the entire narration element but I feel as though the showrunners chickened out and kept using the narration as it most likely did make the episodes easier to make and, well, longer. Without the narration, the 45-minute episodes would have probably clocked in closer to 30, tops. The instance I’m referring to is having Joe be speaking to a therapist, and the narration be the discussion he’s having. That would have been genius and I would have had to look back at the previous episodes to see if it all would still make sense… it wouldn’t have but I think that the show would be stronger if that was what happened.
The other aspect of the narration technique that I didn’t appreciate was how it interrupted the flow of the conversations. If you’ve ever seen Friends, you’d know that the laugh track is sort of the glue that holds scenes together and if you remove it, you’re met with uncomfortable pauses in dialogue exchanges that totally change the fabric of the interaction. The same can be said about You‘s narration– if you remove the narration (or ignore it), you’ll notice that characters have very long pauses between mundane sentences. It becomes a distraction after you get used to the narration but it was never so bad as it kept me from my suspension of disbelief. It…was just something to get used to.
The cast did help with this, though, as they were a pleasure to have on screen at all times. Mainly Penn Badgley (Joe), Elizabeth Lail (Beck), Luca Padovan (Paco), and Shay Mitchell (Peach) all shared the spotlight so magnificently with their unique personas brought on screen. Each one of these characters, no matter how much screen time they had per episode, were as mesmerizing as they were fascinating. Their individual lives, as well as the relationships they had, was absolutely the best part of this season. This, of course, wouldn’t have been possible without the cast selling themselves so well. Badgley was intriguing yet terrifying, Lail was determined yet lost, Padovan was bright yet naïve, and Mitchell was probably who I most enjoyed having on screen because she played the wild card; somebody you don’t know if you should trust, fear, or want dead the entire time. Peach always seemed one step ahead of Joe, so even though Joe was a twisted protagonist, Peach by default was an antagonistic force during this season.
And a twisted protagonist Joe was, indeed. It was difficult not to root for him, though, even though he inspired comparisons in my mind to be made between You and Lolita, which isn’t exactly a great character reference on his part. Some of this may have been the narration style but I’d rather think it was how such a perverse individual can still seem like a decent person when looked through a certain lens. Having this person be a protagonist may inherently do some of the work but I’d credit most of it to the writing. I understand this is based off a novel by Caroline Kepnes but I haven’t read it (yet); I can only assume that the inspiration for this style of storytelling in the show came from the source material so I’d have to give credit to Kepnes for what I love about the writing here.
However, there were two other parts of the writing that I wasn’t so much a fan of. One of these things was that this show has absolutely no subtlety to speak of. Very few things unfold, as the events more collapse upon one another like enormous dominos and while the events were all significant and rarely felt forced (to a certain extent), they did feel slightly blown out of proportion at times. Yes, this is a Lifetime show and a romantic thriller so flare for dramatic is expected but it bordered on melodramatic at times and that’s sort of where some episodes lost me. On the other hand, I started to feel as though this show would’ve been significantly stronger in the narrative department had it been closer to eight episodes than 10. Not that nothing happens in the final two episodes (they were probably my favorite two), but some parts of the season could have been consolidated and the flow would have been stronger altogether.
Aside from what I’ve mentioned, though, I really can’t think of any major problems that I have with the show. It’s smart, sexy, mesmerizing, and quite a bit of fun to watch. While not many scenes can be referred to as genuinely surprising, I found myself having a hard time putting it down and I can’t wait to see what happens in the second season. Again, it’s not a perfect show but if you’re unsure of what to spend your evenings watching this week, You is a perfectly safe bet. I’d say it’s a pretty solid recommendation and I thought it was pretty damn great overall. If you’ve seen this or, more importantly, read the book then let me know what you thought!
As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!