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Lifetime’s ‘YOU’ Surprises in More Ways than One

It would be a mistake to lump YOU into the unending array of heavy TV dramas featuring unnaturally attractive humans.  To be fair, it has all the trappings of a throwback to the days of The WB.   Its executive production team has strong YA roots. Its cast are teen hearthrob emeriti (or related to them).  Shay Mitchell’s a former Pretty Little Liar, Penn Badgely  was Gossip Girl‘s Dan Humphrey, and Kathryn Galleghar is daughter to The OC‘s Peter.  And it’s on Lifetime, a network that has historically had its fair share of stabby movies and over-the-top reality stunts.

Still, don’t judge this book (well, show, but based on Caroline Kepnes’ novel of the same name) by its cover.  Do so, and you’d be missing out on something special.

Much of YOU‘s narrative takes place inside the head of bookstore manager Joe Goldberg (Badgely).  In the season’s opening scenes, he encounters Guinevere Beck.  The sweeping shots of the quaint-yet-dusty bookstore in the background had me bracing for yet another tired meet-cute.  But before I could fully process my reaction to seeing Dan Humphrey (I mean…Badgely) smoldering stare, I needed to pause and readjust. One thing was already horrifyingly clear.

Joe. Is. NUTS.

Indeed, the scariest part of Joe’s stalker-level obsession isn’t how he uses background details in images to find Beck’s apartment.  Nor is it the sexual component of his…erm…observational activities, or even the fact that Beck herself has no idea what’s going on behind those puppy dog eyes.  Rather, it’s the ease with which Joe rationalizes each action to him, no matter how objectively terrifying.  His threadbare, logical breed of insanity is so starkly reasoned it’s almost too easy to lose yourself in his thoughts.  And when you do, you find yourself empathizing with the prototypical bad guy at his creepiest.

As compelling as he is, Joe isn’t the full story.  YOU boasts a uniquely measured blend of traditional-psychopath-meets-relateable-human-dysfunction.  Beck’s pack of wealthy-yet-useless friends, who fully embrace said dysfunction, are an important sideshow to Joe’s otherwise targeted fixation.  Their leader, played by Mitchell (whose character Peach boast all the qualities you would expect of someone named ‘Peach’) quickly places Joe in her perfectly manicured crosshairs. Gallagher’s Annika (because of course her name is Annika), a body-positive Instagram star (because…of course she is) brings her own mess to the table.  And Elizabeth Lail’s Beck has some serious Emily Thorne vibes going on.  But – surprise, surprise – Joe’s not the only one with a secret.  If YOU teaches us anything, it’s that the world’s scariest monsters lurk in the brains of humans.  Seriously good-looking humans, yes, but humans all the same.

And if it teaches us two things, it’s that those monsters are the stuff that good television is made of.

New episodes of YOU air Sundays 10pm ET on Lifetime and are available the next day on demand.