Netflix’s YOU builds tension well but can’t hold it
You is a drama thriller following Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), a bookstore manager by day and stalker by day and night who sets his sights on the woman of his dreams and does whatever it takes to make her love him.
Being a thriller, you’d expect the story of You to kick off at a slow-ish pace and then build the tension with each episode gradually getting more intense. However, for whatever reason this is only true for around half to two thirds of this series where the rest starts to drag and fails to build on any of the tension from previous episodes. It does very well to grab you early on with the initial romance and teases you with secrets and little hints of what’s to come as well as what bad things could unfold. It does build that tension successfully through the first five to six episodes with our pro/antagonist Joe somehow getting creepier and creepier. But as things are revealed, questions are answered, and Joe and Beck’s (Elizabeth Lail) relationship develops the series becomes less engaging.
It begins to drag going into the last four or so episodes where the more engaging storylines aren’t really active and the overall focus of the series is a bit all over the place. The pacing drops and all of a sudden it feels like the show is back at square one with only a few episodes left. It tries to lift again for the conclusion but unfortunately derails almost entirely in the end. The story overall is good, I was engaged but I can’t say I ever got to the point where I couldn’t wait to continue.
One of the biggest strengths the show has going for it is the use of the voiceover to really get inside the mind of Joe and see how he rationalises his horrific acts as normal. It’s a really smart approach when dealing with a protagonist who’s mindset is vastly different from that of the viewer. It adds a lot more to his character and fleshes him out over time. Beck does get some of the voiceover treatment but hers isn’t as effective and doesn’t really flesh her out much more than what you see. As for the other supporting characters no one really stands out as interesting or compelling at all. Some character decisions and actions here and there feel too dumb and contrived to be believed as real and it does take away from the story rather than add to it.
Although, on the performances side of things Penn Badgley is the star of the show and for good reason. He was perfectly cast for role of Joe as he pulls off the weirdly creepy and charming look in the way he acts incredibly well. He carries many of the scenes on his own but Elizabeth Lail is also great as an accompaniment to Penn’s role. The two of them have great chemistry and their scenes together work really well. As i mentioned earlier, no other characters really stand out and as a result no other performances do either.
Overall, season one of You does some interesting things with its story. It makes use of a strong protagonist and smart voiceover to bring you into the mind and world of Joe. It does build quite a bit of tension right off the bat, holding that for the majority of the season. However it takes a dip late in the season where it begins to slow down and it never recovers, only gradually dropping in quality in the lead up to the pretty disastrous finale. This ending just leaves a bad taste in your mouth and doesn’t do much to help the score it gets.