“You” joins a long list of programs that found a second life on Netflix, but with a peculiar twist: Lifetime actually ordered two seasons in advance, only to experience buyer’s remorse after airing the first. The show found a warmer reception on Netflix, which brings the stalker drama back with all of quirky, unsettling appeal intact.
Based on Caroline Kepnes’ book, the first season of “You” focused on bookstore employee Joe (Penn Badgley), whose unhealthy obsession with a young women prompted him to use his web savvy to insinuate himself into every part of her life. A relationship ensued, but Joe was frequently dealt wild setbacks, inflicting a whole lot of collateral damage before Beck’s death, and a cliffhanger that implied more trouble ahead.
Season two finds Joe having moved to another city seeking refuge, taking up residence in Los Angeles, where all the usual “Love your script” stereotypes apply. Before long, however, a new woman, the unfortunately named Love (Victoria Pedretti), has caught his eye, launching him down a road similar to the one that he just navigated, despite his heavily narrated protestations to the contrary.
“I won’t let this situation go bad,” Joe muses in a later episode. “I’ve been through that.”
Indeed he has, and one of the particularly clever — if somewhat queasy — aspects of “You” is that it forces the audience to see things through Joe, despite what a damaged and dangerous loon he is.
Badgley, in fact, makes him oddly sympathetic, to the extent that’s possible. It helps that the writers (topped by executive producers Sera Gamble, Sarah Schechter and Greg Berlanti) derive considerable humor from the strange moments in which Joe finds himself, a bit like that scene in “Psycho” when Norman Bates is seized by momentary panic when the car he’s trying to hide doesn’t immediately sink into the lake.
Joe, moreover, isn’t the only bad guy around, which gives his exploits a small “Dexter” vibe. In this case, that includes his interactions with a sleazy celebrity (Chris D’Elia) who, the evidence suggests, might harbor an unhealthy interest in young girls.
In some respects, “You” just feels like one of the CW shows that Berlanti produces — just really sharply executed, with a densely serialized edge. This season’s arc does feel more layered, including flashbacks that offer further insights, perhaps, into how Joe became the way he is — not to the point of excusing it, but better understanding what shaped him.
The suave killer, of course, is an unfortunate trope in movies and TV, and “You” can’t be divorced from that context. Buried within the show, though, is a warning about social interactions in the modern age, and the way people can be manipulated online thanks to the volume of information that’s available.
In that sense, the series serves as a highly binge-able, very modern thriller, if not, hopefully, what anyone will view as a template for modern romance.
“You” Season 2 premieres Dec. 26 on Netflix.