Lifetime’s loss is Netflix’s gain, and after making the first season of You an unlikely hit, the streaming giant is back with a follow-up.
For those in need of a reminder: You followed Joe, a stalker extraordinaire with a penchant for killing anyone coming between him and his target. In the previous season, his
love interest, Beck, ultimately had to pay with her life, and John Stamos – sadly not as himself or Uncle Jesse, but rather Beck’s counselor – was convicted for all of Joe’s crimes.
Season two finds Joe on the run in L.A. from a former belle, who, while thought to be dead, now is hellbent on bringing Joe down. Joe hates L.A., a city unfitting for his East Coast bookish persona, but he soon finds a new love interest to take his mind off his worries. A love interest, literally: The target’s name is Love, and boy are puns abound.
Joe follows Love, learns all about her, and manipulates his way into a job at her über-L.A. market/cafe, Anavrin. (Read it backward, and release an entirely appropriate groan.) He makes himself an integral part of her life, befriending her wannabe director brother, filling the role of her deceased husband, and is generally as charming as one reasonably can expect a stalker to be.
In case there is any doubt: season two is as much of a guilty pleasure as season one. If anything, it’s even guiltier and more pleasurable, if not necessarily better. The initial season was contained to a smaller, intimate story, with a couple of smaller B-plots. This time there is an additional major storyline that sees Joe trying yet again to save a family in trouble, and there is also an unnecessary deep-dive into his past. The first season already touched upon Joe’s childhood in some detail, but here they have gone all-in, and Joe’s
foibles are laid bare to the point where any and all mystery around him is gone. It’s too bad, as the blank slate presented in the first season was more of an interesting plot device.
The secondary storyline is more interesting. Joe has well-honed intuitions about other antagonists, and a comedian who is giving his underage neighbor just a little bit too much attention soon becomes the target of his ire. No points for guessing which direction that story takes, but how it ties back to the main plot is less predictable than what I would have expected.
And Joe, Joe is still likable. He has good taste, is friendly and helpful, and he genuinely thinks he wants to save people. He is, of course, also a killer, and for every body that falls, he has an excuse. It was an accident or self-defense. The person had to go down, or he’d hurt others. That kind of thing. I’m no counselor – I leave that to pros like John Stamos – but I’d wager Joe would be classified as a sociopath.
As with the first season, Penn Badgley deserves a lot of credit for making this mess of a soap opera work. He plays it straight, and not for a moment does he fall into the trap of giving a knowing wink to the audience. That is particularly impressive seeing he’s on screen for the vast majority of the ten episodes. The supporting cast also holds its own, and Victoria Pedretti jumps both feet in as Love, a character who ends up having what only can be described as a weird arc, wrapped up in the last episode’s deus ex machina ending.
That tenth episode is odd. For nine episodes, You has a decidedly Mr. Ripley vibe, but then suddenly turns into… I don’t even know what. Over the top as You is, its final twist is preposterous.
With that said, the very last scene provides a good setup for a season three that we undoubtedly will be treated to soon. I’ll still be watching – this type of a car wreck is one that’s hard to take your eyes off.