What makes a show binge-worthy? That’s the question I came away with after literally staying up until 2am watching all of the first season of You. It wasn’t a show I was looking forward to, and in fact I didn’t even know it was a thing until the day I sat down to watch it. I knew it was based on a book that was very popular, and which I had heard great things about but had no interest in reading. I also knew that the show starred Penn Badgley, who I like but wouldn’t necessarily call a favorite actor. So, back to the original question: What made it something I ended up binge watching?
Part of the deal, I am sure is that I found myself one weekend with the house to myself and nothing on the social calendar. I’ve definitely sat for long periods of time before, consuming mass amounts of media but usually it was something I had anticipated watching. With You, I sort of stumbled upon it. As I mentioned, I had briefly heard about it (that day), and as I scrolled through the options on Netflix, I paused to read the description. Now, Netflix has very cleverly started playing whatever content you land upon when you pause on the description. So, as I was looking at the show description, and considering whether or not I wanted to add it to my watch list, the first episode started playing. Very smart Netflix, catch us almost unawares, hook us before we even know what’s happening.
I’ll admit, the first episode was not what I was expecting from a television show about a man who stalks a woman and subsequently infiltrates her life. I thought it was going to be creepy, and if not creepy in the scary movie way, at least creepy in the way that stalkers usually are. To be fair, some of it does fall into that second category. There are things that happen that just make you feel icky but what struck me in this first episode was the light, almost whimsical tone of the voice-over. The start of the series feels like a romantic comedy, and in fact the story essentially begins that way. There’s a meet-cute involving a bookstore and some flirtatious exchanges, and the characters have charming chemistry. It doesn’t really begin to be disturbing until the end of the first episode, and that’s about when I realized I was hooked. The light tone takes a dark turn, a really dark turn, and suddenly the whole feel of the show shifts.
The rest of the series is basically a back-and-forth of those two tones. You have some very comedic moments followed immediately by very violent and/or disturbing ones, and sometimes you even have comedic moments sprinkled in during the disturbing ones. It is an interesting experiment, and not always a successful one at that. Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg is charismatic, self-deprecating, and surprisingly sympathetic. There are things that fall under the “stalker creepy” category but because Badgley plays the character the way he does, you sometimes forget that he is stalking this woman. That’s usually when the show does something to remind you of this fact, like have him break into her apartment.
Elizabeth Lail is a good counter to Badgley, and plays Beck, the object of Joe’s attention as a fairly typical millennial woman. She is clearly devoted to her friends, though they may not be the best people, and she is just trying to navigate life the same way other young woman in her situation would. She has romantic missteps, and her Master’s to be concerned with but she also seems to lack some motivation, and she definitely uses some people, including Joe at times. So, as Joe is sometimes sympathetic despite being a stalker, Beck is sometimes unsympathetic despite being the victim.
Like I said, it is an interesting experiment, and there is definitely that theme of the grey areas in human character. The show isn’t perfect and there are things about it I find irritating (some of the sexual content seems excessive, as do some of the storylines with Beck’s friends) but overall I think what made it “binge-worthy” were the performances and that playing with tone element. I laughed out loud at some things, felt a little sad at others, even had those stomach twisting moments where someone is about to get caught doing something they shouldn’t (usually Joe but not always), and still had moments where I felt queasy because at the end of the day it is a story about a man stalking someone. It covered an uncomfortable setup (a man stalks a woman and infiltrates her life) with dark humor and a charming lead. The show is good, and good shows make us want to come back for more but this show was addicting because of how it approached its subject and the people it cast to tell its story.