When Lifetime premiered UnREAL, the general reaction was surprise — surprise that Lifetime actually aired a good, addictive, and smart series as opposed to the usual bad movies about women in peril. When UnREAL began a steady decline that eventually landed its convoluted final season on Hulu rather than its original network … well, that felt more like the Lifetime we once knew. Lifetime’s newest scripted drama, You (also annoyingly-stylized, as YOU, but let’s ignore that) is also sure to surprise. It’s far better than you’d assume and infinitely more watchable than a number of heavily-hyped dramas this fall.
You stars Penn Badgley as a literature-obsessed lonely boy with a disturbing fixation on a pretty blonde. Sound familiar? But You has darker intentions than Gossip Girl; it’s not about a teen boy with an intense crush but about an adult stalker with a violent obsession. When Joe (Badgley) first meets Beck (Elizabeth Lail) at the bookstore he manages, he’s immediately drawn to her — and he also immediately displays some warning signs. He falls down a rabbit hole of investigating her social media (her username is @BeckdelTest, which is both hilarious and perfect) and it isn’t long before he’s lurking outside of her apartment, spying on her, stalking her around the city.
You introduces this twist the way it introduces every twist: quickly and gleefully. And trust me, there are plenty of twists and turns within the first five episodes, many of which are predictable but all of which manage to be surprisingly entertaining. If nothing else, You knows how to keep viewers’ attention. It’s welcome: the summer gave us no shortage of slow series that demand patience, but You races full speed ahead, fitting a season’s worth of stunners in just a few episodes. Are all the developments good? Not in the least! Are they all juicy enough to be compulsively watchable? Absolutely. So much so that I’m reluctant to share any more details about the episodes.
There are times when You seems to be taking the “throw in so many plots that viewers won’t mind the bad ones” approach and, it kinda works. The series is packed: side stories about a lecherous professor in Beck’s MFA program, a neighbor who sees through Joe’s “nice guy” routine, a handful of Beck’s elite and wealthy friends (one of whom knows something isn’t right), a sketchy and druggie on-again/off-again boyfriend Benji (Lou Taylor Pucci) who stands in Joe’s way, and so on.