Doing my best to avoid spoilers.
As I speculated at the time, Netflix’s decision to drop season 1 of You on Boxing Day was presumably targeted at the off-for-the-fortnight audience. And it now looks like a stroke of scheduling genius, because it’s undoubtedly become a thing, perhaps even edging towards a cultural phenomenon, tapping in to the way in which our unease about online privacy coexists with our addiction to social media.
Joe (Penn Badgley), a bookshop manager, becomes infatuated with customer Beck (Elizabeth Lail), a poverty-stricken grad student, and uses readily-available online information to track her down and woo her. Joe is an out-and-out stalker, and a dangerous psychopath at that, but to start with at least the show allows for a degree of ambiguity about whether he might, in some ways, be the hero he sees himself as. Partly this is because Joe also keeps an eye on the wellbeing of his neighbour Paco (Luca Padovan), a young boy suffering because of his mother’s unpleasant partner. And partly it’s because Beck’s social circle is so toxic: she’s in a relationship with independently wealthy Benji (Lou Taylor Pucci), who is trying to get his artisanal soda business off the ground, friendly with the poisonous Peach (Shay Mitchell), and being hit on by her professor. I mean, these people deserve what’s coming their way.
Part of what makes You such an intriguing proposition is that, although most of the characters live much of their lives in the online public arena, they all have secrets; including Beck, who to start with appears to be an uncomplicated love interest archetype, and Peach, whose secret is a deliciously nasty one. Joe more so than most, of course: what happened, for example, to the ex-girlfriend who apparently left the country after they broke up?
Although You is bracingly of-its-time, there are plenty of influences at work: a bit of The Talented Mr Ripley, a little Revenge, perhaps? And, of course, a huge debt to Dexter: the voiceover, the keepsakes, the “noble cause” murders, the fact that no-one seems to have noticed that a lot of people die around Joe. Which I’m delighted about, because it sometimes seems as if Dexter so thoroughly trashed its reputation in its later seasons that it rarely even features in pieces about shows that trashed their reputations in their later seasons. I suspect that people have forgotten how thrillingly and daringly transgressive and amoral Dexter was at the start, and You channels some of this queasy, irresistible energy.
Also, there’s plenty of great acting on view. It seems that Badgley has become quite the sex symbol, even as he tries to plead that Joe isn’t supposed to be charming. And there’s some delectable satire to be found in Beck’s circle: Shay Mitchell is terrific as Peach; and Kathryn Gallagher as “influencer” Annika, and Hari Nef as Blythe, a pass-agg student, are endlessly watchable. You isn’t perfect: it’s probably a little baggy in the middle, and it’s a shame that at least part of the final episode revolved around a terrified young woman imprisoned in a cage. But it’s really very good indeed, and I’m looking forward to the second season.