Dan Humphrey has officially taken Gossip Girl too far. In the new psycho-thriller You, Penn Badgley (who played the aforementioned GG star) is Joe Goldberg, a bookstore manager by day and a serial stalker by night (and most other times of the day). The show, which premiered on Lifetime in September and was released on Netflix on Dec. 26, is not just binge-worthy, but is also so full of cliffhangers and general ridiculous plot lines that you can’t help but watch it in one go. Is it a masterpiece of television? No. But is it absolutely insane and undeniably fun? Absolutely.
You begins with Joe self-narrating his seemingly normal shift at the shop, when a stunning blonde woman named nicknamed Beck (Elizabeth Lail) comes in and buys a book called Desperate Characters. The immediate metaphors are overpowering, and not in a good way, but in so much of a bad way that it’s laughable in a good way (does that even make sense?). The show continues as Joe literally stalks Beck, first going through all her social media pages, finding out she’s a writer studying at NYU, and eventually turning up at an open mic night where she reads some of her poetry to a not-so-forgiving audience. As she drunkenly stumbles onto the subway, where Joe also “happens” to be, she falls onto the tracks and is saved in the nick of time by her stalker in shining armor. The show is ridiculous beyond belief. But oh my god is it good.
One of the best worst things about the show is how riddled with stupidity it is. The script is terrible. The self-narration is cringe-worthy. There are so many poorly planned plot points where you have to stop the show and say out loud, “Okay, that didn’t really happen did it?” And somehow all of this makes for fantastic TV.
As Joe’s stalking gets more and more intense, and as he manages to win over Beck and the two start a relationship, he ends up having to push people out of her life to make sure she doesn’t see through the holes of his insanity. And how does he push people away? He kills them. So yes, this is a semi-romantic comedy, semi-murder not-so-mystery. Joe’s hyper-jealousy and general paranoia lead him to act insane, especially around Beck, who begins to doubt the strength of their relationship. And as her friends and loved ones disappear or die unexpectedly, she becomes suspicious.
One of Beck’s best friends, Peach Salinger (Shay Mitchell) (yes, her name is actually Peach Salinger) (she’s supposed to be a great-granddaughter of JD Salinger) (I seriously cannot begin to tell you how ridiculous this show is), is the most suspicious of Joe, trying to get Beck to dump him and desert him. But the big plot twist here is that Peach turns out to be stalking Beck too!!! It’s nuts! And she’s been stalking her for longer, so what can Joe even do? Well, I’ll tell you what he can do: he can kill her and stage her death as a suicide. Again, this show is a lot.
At the end of the day, You is really damn good. It’s batshit crazy, and that’s part of its charm. The viewer wants to know what Joe will do next, how far his insanity will go before he’s caught, and who will be the next on his list of victims. Questions of his past come up; his ex-girlfriend is supposedly dead or exiled, his parents were never in the picture, the owner of the bookstore locked him in a glass cage in the basement when he was a kid which is sure to fuck a person up as an adult. And one of the most fun parts of the show is laughing out loud at the over-the-top stuff, like Joe poisoning someone with an almond maple latte, or briefly dating a girl named Karen Minty (Natalie Paul). And yes, the writers did decide to name someone Karen Minty. I’ll say it again; this show is simultaneously stupid and stupendous, and you have to watch it.
If you imagine You as a post-Gossip Girl spin-off show, with Dan taking his skills as a gossip blogger too far and becoming a stalker, still falling for beautiful New York blondes, and private school girls going to great lengths to protect and also backstab their friends, then it sort of fills a hole in our hearts. Or at least it does for me.