Review: Netflix's YOU (Spoiler-Free)

If you have that one friend who never seems to know how to password-protect their phone, laptop, or whatever other mobile device (or perhaps that friend is you), get them to see this show.  

Netflix triumphs once again with one of its newest successes: the psychological thriller YOU, based on a Caroline Kepnes novel of the same name. The story starts out in a homely New York bookstore, where manager Joe Goldberg (played by Penn Badgley) is immediately smitten by Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail), a bubbly, blonde beauty who visits the premises. The two click over small talk, sharing a love of books and a certain scorn for Dan Brown – and for Joe, it’s love at first sight.  

Or rather, obsession at first sight. Given that this show falls under the category of a ‘crime drama’, Joe isn’t one of your typical rom-com loverboys; he’s instantly engulfed by the overwhelming desire to win Beck’s affections, even if it means going through her entire social media history and literally stalking her each and every move.

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YOU excels in fostering a suspenseful atmosphere that lingers even after each episode, as its relevant issues hit close to home for most viewers. How often do we check our privacy settings on Facebook, ensuring only our closest friends and family get to see our daily activities? Do we make the habit of using passwords for our devices, or are we too trusting to add that extra step?

While highly dramatized, the series strikes a chilling chord as it shows just how easy it is these days to crack someone’s personal history open with the click of a search button. With today’s social media craze and the millennial compulsion to document every moment of our lives, the internet is practically a stalker’s paradise.

Yet, while this cautionary tale instils a creeping paranoia among audiences, it also effectively plays on the guilty, voyeuristic pleasure we get out of peering into other people’s lives. Sure, we all hate to be on the receiving end of a social media stalk, but how many of us can say that we haven’t done the deed ourselves? As disturbing as Joe’s actions are, they are part-terrifying, part-relatable; we’ve all done our fair share of profile trawls too – whether that be an ex, a crush, or simply former high school friends.

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The show develops Joe’s character excellently, and it helps that we get Badgley’s acting chops to boot. The guy plays a convincing sociopath who truly believes that he’s the lovestruck hero of his own romantic comedy – but when he’s not out trying to creep on women, he’s your regular nerdy guy with a flair for art and literature. These two sides to the character present a true-to-life depiction of real-life psychos: they come in all shapes and sizes, some ugly, some pretty, and some who look like your friendly next-door neighbour.

The best way I can describe Joe, as he carries himself throughout the series, is like a sociopathic version of Tom from 500 Days of Summer. Both are selfish and obsessed with the fairytale concept of ‘The One’, projecting a ‘perfect’ image onto their romantic interests that, shocker, they can never live up to. Of course, YOU presents us with a darker tale, should such perceptions fester in a mind more manipulative and unstable. And it plays out excellently.

Elizabeth Lail portrays the (not so)-Manic Pixie Dream Girl of our story, Beck, and does so well – if not a tad annoying at times. I guess these moments are no accident; while Joe is meant to view her as ‘perfect’, we, as an audience, aren’t meant to. Shay Mitchell also does an entertaining job at playing Peach Salinger, the catty rich bestie that most viewers would love to hate.

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My only drop of criticism would be the cinematography at times, as the camera work, editing, score and colours were reminiscent of those tacky teen shows you’d catch on the CW. A quick Wikipedia search shows that one of the production companies they were involved with had also worked with Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl, and The Vampire Diaries, which all fit the bill. On top of that, the cinematographer once worked on an episode for Riverdale.

This is a minor gripe, however; since the acting and story all very well make up for it. Given that nearly all the characters are meant to be reckless individuals in their late 20’s to early 30’s, I guess it suits the theme, in a way.

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All-in-all, I highly recommend YOU to anyone hunting for a new series. It’s only 10 episodes, each with a runtime of only 40-50 minutes, so it’s a totally easy binge – and highly addictive. You’re going to want to privatise every digital thing you own afterwards.

(All photos courtesy of Netflix.)