A Netflix warning: Don't judge a book by its cover
“You” is Netflix’s newest gift to us. People are obsessed with this show and for a good reason. This isn’t a rom-com, thriller or comedy; it’s a hybrid of all three. “You” is one of the more interesting scripted fiction shows on the platform because it takes a cliche story and turns it on its head. Everyone is familiar with the boy next door archetype. It’s the boy who walks the girl home after the jock breaks her heart, the boy who waits for her in the rain just to give her back her favorite scrunchie, or the boy who listens to all her problems, gives her helpful advice and is seemingly the most emotionally intelligent man she has ever met. In a sea of toxic masculinity, it’s always refreshing to see the good guy. Author of the original novel “You,” Caroline Kepnes, reminds readers and viewers to not be so naive and not to judge a book by its cover because it never tells the whole story. Show creators Greg Berlanti (“Riverdale,” “Dawson’s Creek”) and Sera Gamble (“Supernatural”) have created a show where every episode is a romantic, funny, anxiety attack full of twists, turns and new layers uncovered in every scene.
Despite the fact that the characters are all playing typical archetypes, these individuals are completely unpredictable, which begs the question of how well does the viewer know what they think they know? How much of their own judgement can we trust?
The first scene may be warm, familiar and inviting, but by the end of the episode the viewer’s jaw will be on the floor. The deeper the audience delves into the mind of Joe (Penn Badgely), the main character and narrator, the more they begin to realize they don’t know who is he at all, and neither does he. This show plays on the idea that viewers are used to seeing these archetypal characters. The show expects the audience to predict what the characters will do next, just for the characters to do something completely different. Viewers want to root for Joe even though they maybe shouldn’t, because his redeeming qualities overshadow their doubts, and then they’re fooled again.
The female protagonist Beck (Elizabeth Lail) is not just some textbook (pun intended) English major, either. She is witty, beautiful and trapped, but she has her secrets too. The more information that is revealed about her character the more the audience realizes that they don’t know her at all either.
These characters are written to live their subconscious. All of their locked up or unacknowledged thoughts and desires that motivate their everyday choices become exposed. It is thrilling to watch because each character in some way surprises the viewer. Though it may seem as if this cycle would get boring or tiresome – admittedly sometimes it does – the viewer knows that the character’s days are numbered and there is an hourglass winding down. Characters are being introduced right as they are about to discover the worst parts of themselves, and the climax is bound to be good.