Joe, the main character of You, is in the tradition of a lot of TV anti-heroes; charming, handsome, morally bankrupt, and violent towards acceptable targets like abusers and douchebags. He’s not a particularly deep character, but one that all of the show is filtered through. And that’s unfortunate because…
- What I find really frustrating with You as a series is it’s knack for building really interesting, complex, and nuanced character and then sacrificing them on the altar of it’s douchey main character. And yeah, the series is quite aware that Joe is not a good person, but for some reason we’re still stuck in his point of view, and the show still treats him as the main protagonist and expects us to identify with his ups and down and challenges.
- This came to a head with Beck’s death at the end of season one. To me it was infuriating watching this interesting character whose story of trauma and abuse and disillusion was genuinely complex be snuffed out like the end of a bad horror movie so that Joe’s story could go on.
- And Joe’s story is kind of boring. Especially in season two, there’s nothing new to discover or explore with him besides some trite backstory of abuse and abandonment as a child. Season two is really reveals the vapidity of his story and how much of a one trick pony it is. In season one the kid he watched out for told us something about him, but retreading the exact same storyline doesn’t tell us anything new, but the show retreads it because it needs to make Joe at least somewhat likable to function narratively.
- Obviously stories don’t need to be just about good people, but the line between depiction and endorsement also isn’t quite as sharp as people like to think. Depiction isn’t endorsement, but it does normalize, does humanize. The show doesn’t endorse Joe or his behavior, but we’re still supposed to identify with him, to find him compelling, to be interested in what he does and why he does it. He’s the cool guy, the smart one who sneers at all the things we find vapid and empty.
- It’s tricky, and you can tell because of fan reactions. Take the Sopranos for instance. The show never shied away from showing just what a terrible person its main characters were, but more than that it never lost sight and never relented from showing how hypocritical they were, and how ultimately pathetic. And yet viewers still loved them, still wanted Tony to go out as a badass at the end of the series instead of the ambiguous and ambivalent ending he got.
- And what’s the thematic message of You as a series? What is it trying to say? Nothing, not really. There’s some hints in the first season that’s it about social media and equating what Joe does with merely the next step in our culture’s obsession, but it never really finishes that argument, just kind of shrugs and wants credit for having brought it up.
- Beck felt like a real person, down to the ways that she was not a great or likeable person at times. She felt solid, like the kind of person you could meet in real life, who was trying to navigate the genuinely complicated pressures of women in that age range and status. I’m sure some people didn’t like her: that’s too be expected she wasn’t a perfect character, and the ways she was imperfect were distinctly feminine which there is nothing the internet and viewers hates more, but her story was an interesting one to explore, and had so much more to say than Joe’s.
- The show does the same thing with Forty, turning someone who at first is completely unlikable into a genuinely compelling and interesting character, one with trauma and deep faults but also friendliness and kindness and fierce love for his sister. But just like Beck in the last episode of season two he’s sacrificed on the altar of Joe’s story.
- Delilah is a less complex character than either Beck or Forty, but her fate is the same. Love gets a similar treatment, sacrificed at the altar of Joe’s story, but in this case instead of death it’s the twist that’s she’s as demented as Joe. Because of course Joe’s story has to go on, and the only way for her to stay in it is to enter his same murderous stalker world. The twist strips all the complexity from her character, all her struggles and conflicts: her abuse from her parents, her both love and sense of burden from her relationship with Forty.
Is You a good show? Yes and no and not really. It’s certainly compelling, easily bingeable, but it’s also insidious and vapid and more in love with its main character than it wants to admit.
Photo Credit: IMDB
A Note on Ticket Prices: While there’s no doubt that seeing movies in theater is the superior viewing experience, ticket prices ain’t cheap. If you’re having trouble affording them, or just financial troubles in general, think about taking out a title loan. They’re fast and convenient and simple to get.