YOU might have earned very little fanfare during its freshman run on Lifetime, but after it hit Netflix in December, the stalker-thriller became the must-binge show of the season — with a reported 40 million-plus subscriber views in its first few weeks on the platform — and it completely lived up to the hype.
The series, which will officially move to Netflix for its second season, was clearly built for the traditional broadcast landscape of its original home, and yet YOU plays out so much more effectively in a streaming format. It's styled such that each act of any given episode is layered with intensity and mini-cliffhangers, and without those ad interruptions, watching it feels like reading a breezy suspense novel with very brief but cutting little chapters.
The series is also unique because it doesn't bother to hide the fact that its hunk du jour, Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), is a bona fide psycho-stalker and that our heroine, Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail), is pretty much doomed the second he lays eyes on her. YOU lets us know, through the very provocative inner monologues of its leading antagonist, just how dangerous his mindset is. As a result, the viewing experience is less about questioning will he or won't he do the crazy thing we know he's itching to, but rather, will she or won't she fall victim to his thinly-veiled lunacy?
Even when we think we know what we're about to witness, YOU still invites us to savor in the spectacle of Joe trying to suppress — or at least conceal — his worst instincts, just as Beck does her darndest to reveal to him and us alike that she's more than some prototypical damsel in distress. Of course, the series would likely be trite and unwatchable if the main character had no hope of redemption, so it does well to sprinkle in a few key nods to that possibility. In fact, there may be moments when, as a viewer, we have to press pause and seriously ponder why it is we're cheering for things to shake out in this hunky villain's favor when we know exactly what he is capable of? (Though we should note that doesn't mean we lusted after him.)
From start to finish, the series is filled with just enough delicious twists and turns to keep us guessing all the way through without compromising the clarity of its endgame, thanks in no small part to complications brought on by its scene-stealing secondary characters, like Dr. Nicky (John Stamos) and Peach Salinger (Shay Mitchell). These supporting players help to drive the narrative along very nicely in their own ways, even acting as a sort of mouthpiece for us in the fourth wall at times. As the pages turn on this story, we become more invested in every character, but the show is still just outrageous and silly enough to create a safe distance between itself and reality, which makes it the ultimate guilty pleasure binge (even if it does beckon us all to reconsider our digital presence).
In short, YOU is a strange, discomfiting, and completely compelling binge that manages to hook us early on, deliver unexpected goods along the way, and come to a sensible and still surprising conclusion.
As we head into Season 2, which will draw from Hidden Bodies, Caroline Kepnes' sequel to the original novel upon which YOU was based, the action will move from New York to Los Angeles, but if the show manages to recapture the intrigue of its inaugural season, we're already prepared to cancel all our plans the weekend it arrives on Netflix.
Because this is such a competitive category, TV Guide wanted to take this opportunity to shout-out all the runners-up who just barely missed out on the honor of Best Binge: The Society, the teen drama we've been waiting for Netflix to deliver; Bodyguard, a fast-paced thriller that let Richard Madden shine; and On My Block, a comedy that's as compelling as any drama on the air.