UPDATE: This story was originally published on September 5 at 11:55 a.m.
In late December 2018 Netflix released the first season of You. In the weeks since, the terrifying tale of Joe Golberg (Gossip Girl alum Benn Badgley) and Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail) — which will be a Netflix-only production for the upcoming season 2 and beyond — has become a constant source of Twitter memes and social media fascination. So should you check out 2019's dark horse hit? Keep reading to find out.
Original story follows
Penn Badgley first sauntered his way into our hearts as Gossip Girl’s Dan Humphrey, the artsy writer who eventually won the heart of Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively). Dan also just happened to be the greatest stalker the televised version New York City had ever seen. Because, in a move that still baffles the internet and teen drama lovers everywhere, Badgley’s Dan (aka Lonely Boy) was revealed to be Gossip Girl himself during the soap’s series finale.
Well, six years after Dan’s story ended, Badgley is back on our televisions with the kind of all-seeing, all-knowing, truly haunting fictional Upper East Side stalker that can give Lonely Boy a run for his money: soon-to-arrive You protagonist Joe Goldberg.
With Lifetime's upcoming thriller You, inspired by Carole Kepnes’ 2014 book of the same name, Joe takes the New York City rom-com conceits we've come to love and corrupts them with strains of obsession, disturbingly easy to accomplish cyber stalking, and violence. The result for You is one of the most addictive, taut new dramas of the autumn/winter season. What else would you expect from a series co-created by Riverdale producer Greg Berlanti?
Although Dan Humphrey was generally fixated on the wealthy and lavish lifestyles of the teens around him in the Upper East Side prep school game, Joe, a loner book store manger, has more specific tastes. Namely, a woman named Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail), who simply goes by “Beck.”
Beck is a poetry graduate student striving to stay afloat in NYC, and she unwittingly finds herself in consistently toxic relationships. At the start of the series, Beck’s crush is a faux hipster rich kid named Benji (Lou Taylor Pucci) who is obsessed with crafting “artisanal” soda. Benji is the worst. We’re supposed to think Beck’s friends are all self-obsessed monsters in their own separate ways (one of them is played by Pretty Little Liars favourite Shay Mitchell, dripping in the best autumn wardrobe). Beck had a terrible relationship with her father, who battled addiction issues, before his death. Poor Beck.
That’s where Joe comes in. Joe decides he’s going to save Beck from all of that after she stumbles into his indie bookstore on the Upper East Side. All Beck needs to do is fall in love with him. So, begins this dashing bibliophile’s quest. While such wooing would usually involve, you know, wooing, Joe isn’t a simple guy. Joe is a top-level digital age stalker. He uses every single thread of Beck’s internet presence to trick unassuming Beck into a relationship. Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr are all up for grabs. Pictures of her apartment are up for grabs. Following her to a poetry reading is up for grabs, along with the monitoring of other, more personal, activities no one should spoil for you. It’s horrifying; you will never look at at social media the same.
As with Mindhunter before it, You works hard to explore what drives the kinds of dangerous men we’re most afraid of. After all, Joe’s chillingly pragmatic voiceover lurks above every single episode, helping us understand the stalker’s many dastardly, often outright criminal, deeds. This is a man who is driven by the most warped forms of love and desperation. Although you’re never exactly going to root for Joe Goldberg, you will get a dark thrill out of seeing what he does next, especially as his jealousy over Beck’s loyalties hits a fever pitch.
Plus, we're reminded of just how much conventionally handsome, tall, white, brunette men can get away with if they smile sheepishly enough. It's a powerful statement.
While living in Joe’s mind is dark fun in the same vein as a peek inside the brain of another Lifetime Goldberg with a tortured streak, UnReal’s Rachel Goldberg (Shiri Appleby), You doesn’t leave Beck out of the equation. When Joe introduces Beck by describing her accessories and braless habit, he doesn’t sound suave — he sounds like the kind of creep you wish she could escape (spoiler alert: she doesn’t, because what would the show be?). Through Joe’s stalking, we eventually learn every detail of Beck’s life, down to her supposed sexual fantasies and why she’s hiding the poetry she writes. Then, You makes the smart decision to slowly prove how wrong Joe is about all of his sexist assumptions.
Because, Beck slowly proves to be leading lady in her story, not a secondary character brought to life by the male gaze.
That’s why some of the most exciting parts of the series’ first season — You has already been renewed for a second one — have nothing to do with waiting to find out how Joe will get out of his latest stalking-related pickle. Rather, those moments explore Beck’s complicated friendships, even more complicated family relationships, and her own #MeToo situation with a professor (which was written before the anti-sexual harassment movement became a trending topic last October, co-creator Sera Gamble confirmed to Refinery29).
In fact, if You’s psychothriller vibes are your thing, the only part of the series you might complain about is that we don’t get to hang out with Beck, free of Joe’s watchful eye, fast enough. At least in the first five episodes of season 1, which were made available to critics.
So come to You to remember how great Penn Badgley can be at quietly, horrifically following people around the streets of New York, now with more crimes and cringeworthy sexual behaviour. Stay for the saga of Guinevere Beck. And, if nothing else, to see the fantastic coat Shay Mitchell wears during the third episode.