If you've browsed Netflix recently, you may be wondering why Penn Badgley is staring at you in the top featured slot with some "new" show called YOU that you've never heard about. (If you've already seen YOU, then you can skip this part.) And maybe your Twitter feed is full of pals gushing over their awkward crushes over a definite stalker and possible serial killer named Joe Goldberg, and you're all, "Who the f--- is Joe Goldberg?"
Well, Joe Goldberg is about to become your new favorite anti-hero. YOU may be new to Netflix, but it started out as a drama on Lifetime, and we named it one of the best shows of 2018. It's OK if you slept on it; most people have never heard of it, and a drama on Lifetime doesn't exactly scream MUST-SEE TV. But now that the first season is on Netflix (as of Jan. 1) and it's finally getting the exposure it deserves — a quick look at search interest revealed a huge spike over the last week — it's time for you to get on this crazy train. (And be caught up for Season 2, which is heading straight to Netflix as the streamer bought it.)
YOU is based on Caroline Kepnes' book of the same name and comes to TV via Supernatural and The Magicians' Sera Gamble (and Greg Berlanti, because he's involved in everything), and is the perfect kind of TV trash: It's about young people falling in love, getting obsessive, and murder, but it also does it in a smart way that makes you think (not too much, just enough). YOU is an anti-love story that infects a traditional tale of young romance. There's courtship, misunderstandings, dubious friends, compatibility issues and breakups — all things you'd expect to see in traditionally smoochy young adult schmaltz — but it's spectacularly bleached to the bone by the fact that one of the lovestruck parties is a total psychopath.
Said psycho is Joe (Badgely), a handsome, well-read bookstore manager who gets heart-eyes for a customer named Beck (Elizabeth Lail), and we hear his whole devious pick-up plan through his voiceover, whether it be from gawking at her through the curtain-less window of her ground floor apartment (OK, Beck bears some responsibility in this) or cloning her phone to spy on her texts. But there's a certain charm to Joe, probably in his rationalization that he's saving Beck from her awful hipster boyfriend and stuck-up bougie gal pals, and that charisma is what makes YOU tick. You don't necessarily root for Joe, as he's engaging in awful acts to ensnare Beck in his obsessive love, but for the sake of the story being told, you don't really mind. It's one of the more difficult relationships I've had with a lead character in a TV series, and Badgely is great at conning us into liking him even if we hate what he's doing.
That's going to sound like it isn't really relatable, but YOU is able to pull you in because much of Joe's actions are only a small step beyond how we behave with our cyber crushes. We've all scoured the Facebook and Instagram accounts of those we think are our soulmate even if they don't know we exist. We've all pieced together their lives and decided what's good and bad about it, as it fits our fantasy. We've all managed to put ourselves somewhere we happen to know a crush will also be to increase our chances of a conversation. It's innocent stalking, but it's also not far from what Joe does, so we get some of his obsessive behavior. And that's how Joe worms his way into our good graces.
Thankfully, when he oversteps those bounds into criminal territory or even just over-the-line cyberstalking, there's a definite barrier that separates us from him, so we're never fully rooting for the sicko. But the tug-of-war with Joe is why you'll barrel into the next episode when one ends.
Beyond the ups and downs of Joe and Beck, there's also great commentary on ditzy "me first" 20-somethings and social media, with Joe, from atop his high horse, leading the charge against both. And if you miss seeing Pretty Little Liars' Shay Mitchell, she's great as Beck's least trustful friend, the impeccably named Peach Salinger. John Stamos even makes an appearance!
To tell you much more would be to ruin the enjoyment of YOU, so go ahead and check it out for yourself. It's fun, it's easy, and everyone's finally figuring out what we've been saying all along.
Season 1 of YOU is now on Netflix.