In 2018, YOU was one of the most slept on—and most fun—shows of the year. It premiered in September, on a regular degular cable channel, Lifetime, and the season one finale aired a staggering nine weeks later in mid-November, a release and rollout straight out of 2011. One short week into 2019, though, anyone who wasn’t privy before would be forgiven to think YOU is a brand-new Netflix original that dropped over the holidays somewhere in between Bird Box and Bandersnatch. If a series airs anywhere outside of the Big Five (HBO, AMC, FX, Showtime and, um, NBC?) does it even truly exist until Netflix? Apparently not.
A series taking on a new and ultimately more fulfilling life after hitting home video is hardly a new concept. Newer shows drifting unnoticed at large until they hit a common denominator streaming service is how most of them gain legs in this post-apocalyptic TV dystopia we’re living in, and as for classic shows that a new generation is warming to, well, did you hear Netflix almost lost Friends?!
Still, it’s curious to watch a majority of my timeline react to YOU not as if they’re just discovering it, but like it didn’t exist until now, with the common descriptor being “that new Netflix show” (not unlike Black Mirror’s Channel 4 to Netflix path before it.) Granted, some of the confusion probably stems from the fact that You is a Netflix show now. A second season was initially renewed by Lifetime before being dropped and then picked up by Netflix, where it was already an original internationally to begin with. This is a good thing, mostly. For one, the show’s pulpy and propulsive narrative is built for binging, (this coming from a guy who sticks to a two-three episode per sitting restraint—anything more just becomes narrative soup and impossible to distinguish episodically in my opinion but that’s my idiosyncrasy to bear). Amidst the trappings of an airport potboiler, YOU cleverly weaponizes expectations, casting proto-internet boyfriend Dan Humphrey as Joe, a toxic lecherous creep who preys on a cast of narcissists so loathsome no one is really “good.” The show’s whole aesthetic is being self-awarely over-the-top and soapy, but it’s that self-awareness that also makes room for sharp dialog and moments so in on the joke that they’re hilarious to laugh both with and at (Joe’s tweets as a rich bro he’s kidnapped, for one). The commentary on contemporary social media and the way it has informed our personas is actually incisive; Peach Salinger is the MVP of course but everything about, say, Beck’s influencer friend Anikka, is remarkably dead-on. We all know a few Becks who curate a more fulfilled life on IG, as well as entitled, monied douches who harp about bullshit like artisanal soda. What’s more, in some fleeting moments, it’s actually deceptively sweet. On the surface, the turns Beck and Joe’s relationship take in episodes seven through nine would actually provide the spine for a very solid rom-com if those turns weren’t, you know, borne out of deception, manipulation and murder. Part of the genius of the show is the way it doesn’t shortchange building these two into an actual relationship (or at least, explaining how and why Beck could be so blinded) in service of all the murder, frame-jobs and ridiculous book cages.