If you are looking for something that does not make you jump out of your seat while watching or reading, but does leave you feeling scared and paranoid as you go about your daily life, “You” should be on your reading and watch list.
The Netflix series based on the book by Caroline Kepnes tells the story of a young bookstore manager, Joe Goldberg (played by Penn Badgley), who becomes obsessed with a graduate student, Guinevere Beck (played by Elizabeth Lail), who visits his bookstore. Their feelings for each other intensify through the story, as do Joe’s actions to make sure Beck is kept “safe.” To him, this means watching her every move, secretly reading her emails, and attacking anyone who gets in the way of their relationship.
The most disturbing part about “You” is that Joe seems to be what every girl dreams of in a boyfriend. He is kind and giving. He is well-read and intelligent. He is handsome, with high cheekbones and an athletic build that could make a girl swoon. He is soft-spoken and accommodating, and he seems to be so in sync with Beck’s likes and dislikes that it is almost too good to be true.
And it is too good to be true, because he has learned everything about Beck’s likes and dislikes by stalking her, both online and in person. No one expects Joe to be misleading and violent, which makes his character even scarier. His behavior causes viewers and readers to question not only the people they date, but the people their friends date, or the people their previous girlfriends or boyfriends date. No one is out of reach of Joe’s actions to “protect” Beck.
The Netflix series, created by Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble, is an interesting adaptation of the book. In a rare twist, I think I enjoyed the show just as much as I did the book. While the book was brilliant and scary and kept me turning the pages, the show offered insights that the book, which is told in a limited first-person perspective, could not achieve. In both, Joe narrates the story, so the viewer and reader are able to experience his full perspective.
But the Lifetime series also showed the perspectives and moments of characters’ lives that Joe never witnessed. Some of the characters, who were described one way by Joe in both the show and book, presented a different side of their character when he was not around.
This, of course, begs the question of whether Berlanti and Gamble used great creative liberties when developing these characters, or if these were the characters that Caroline Kepnes, who helped write the show’s script, originally created. Is Joe simply too focused on what he wants to see? For instance, Beck, who in the book seems to be the too stereotypical sex-hungry flirt with daddy issues, becomes a harried, broke graduate student who was focuses almost solely on starting her career as a writer.
Other characters were changed as well. Beck’s friend Lynn Lieser (played by Nicole Kang) appeared as expected with a few minor twists in her character, but Beck’s friend Chana never appeared. She was replaced with Beck’s friend Annika Atwater (Kathryn Gallagher), a plus-size Instagram-famous model. Peach Salinger (Shay Mitchell) is just as unpleasant in the show as she is in the book, but for some reason, she and Beck’s other friends all got along, perhaps in an effort to limit the drama in the story.
Another interesting creative touch added to the show was the new character, Paco (played by Luca Padovan), the son of a single mother in an abusive relationship. Joe, who grew up in an abusive home, connects with this child and goes to great lengths to make Paco know that he is not alone. He brings Paco food and offers him books to read, and he steps in to protect the boy when he feels so moved. It is a softer side of Joe that leaves the viewer almost hoping that Joe is not quite as bad as he seems. Perhaps he can give up his violent tendencies, and he and Beck can have a chance for a happily-ever-after. The show reinforces this idea by making all of the characters Joe originally targets overly unpleasant.
The Joe presented in the book was not quite as charming, and in this way, the book and the show are very different. Both, however, present an interesting story that is worth the watch or read. Read the book first because the show has far too many spoilers, but then watch the show with an open mind. It presents a slightly different story with more developed characters in ways I did not expect, but in the end, it has the same frightening message: Not all people present themselves as whom they truly are.