Unrequited love is big business. Songs, plays, poems galore. It has also become a bad, bad business. Your unrequited love poem is someone else’s stalker emergency.
You (streams Netflix) is back for a third season, proving there’s undying appetite for the whole unrequited/stalker dynamic. Also, that there’s a hunger for the unrelenting satire of contemporary mores that is at the heart of the series.
The first season of the series about obsessive boyfriend-wannabe Joe (Penn Badgley) aired on the Lifetime channel in the U.S. to mild interest and 1.5 million viewers. On Netflix that audience was multiplied by 100. The combination of binge-watching and social-media chatter made it huge.
Back then, Joe, manager of a Manhattan bookstore, took a shine to customer Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail), based on her looks, clothes and purchase of a particular novel. Soon, in what seemed a cautionary tale about life in an online world, Joe knew everything about the woman and set out to claim her as “the one” for him and him alone. There were two twists: Guinevere Beck was not actually the interesting woman Joe imagined and, two, he was happy to murder people to get close to her.
Then Joe went west and did his stalking in California. A woman named Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti) became his obsession. (Names in You are always interesting. The first season featured a key character named Peach.) Turns out Love had done a Joe, and stalked and manipulated him into a relationship. Joe had met his female equivalent. There would be fun times ahead.
And here we are now: Joe and Love are together, have a baby and, on the surface, are living in domestic bliss. But Joe hates it all. A pseudo-intellectual, he loathed the shallowness of New York City’s literary types and now he’s in a hellish landscape of mommy-bloggers, tech millionaires and men who obsess about food, diet, exercise and male bonding. To ease his pain, Joe does what he always does; he obsesses about another woman. This time it’s his next-door neighbour. Love takes a dim view and, well, let’s see who comes out alive from that triangle.
You has lost little of its creative energy and is far from running on fumes. A fourth season is definitely coming. But what’s the attraction? The show, in the hands of writer Sera Gamble (working from novels by Caroline Kepnes), has put the focus on an unlikely but successful undercurrent in the story of Joe’s murderous obsessions. As a phony, he’s got an intense loathing of phonies, and in that he is usually correct.
Thus, in the ridiculous middle-class suburb of Madre Linda, Joe and his wife’s obsession with murder and revenge takes them on a journey of hating what is eminently hate-able: fake sophistication, narcissism, anti-vaxxers, health-food obsessives and people whose lives exist mainly online. All of these traits are captured in the characters of Sherry Conrad (Shalita Grant), a snobby influencer who controls the community with an iron fist, and her husband Cary (Travis Van Winkle), an airhead who thinks his obsession with his body is the path to enlightenment.
To say they get a comeuppance is understating it. But, in the way You has always been clever, they are revealed for the anxiety-driven hypocrites they are. What we see in You is a deft twist on the dramatic angst on display in such series as Big Little Lies. Angst? Joe and Love are made murderous by that kind of showy angst. What the heck do you think is going to happen in the basement of Love’s absurdly clean, white and antiseptic cupcake bakery?
Not to mention the dark hilarity of Joe and Love attending couples therapy. The message from the therapist to these two psychopaths is that no, they’re not going to murder each other, but you know, you cannot love if you cannot hate. It’s almost as funny as Joe’s long-winded voiceover narratives, in which he presents himself as a put-upon good guy.
What began as one-note thriller about a dangerous stalker became a savage spoof of internet-era relationships and, this season, a savage mockery of marriage and domestic bliss. It’s crazy but so, so smart. Love it.
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