This is a spoiler-free review of You Season 2, which is now streaming on Netflix.
As someone who watches television professionally, there’s a myriad of things to be considered before writing a review. How’s the writing? The acting? The directing? Are the motivations earned? What about the twists? Is it funny/sad/subversive enough? What is it trying to say? But perhaps the most important question of all for the everyday viewer is: is it fun? And on that level — as well as several others previously mentioned — You Season 2 is a gosh-darned treasure, an enjoyable binge and viewing experience as bonkers as the first.
In its sophomore outing — now a Netflix Original after Lifetime let it go for streamer pastures — the Sera Gamble and Greg Berlanti-produced series continues to thread the “this absolutely should not work” needle with aplomb. The series’ subversive look at relationships, passion, and even its own audience, through its unhinged protagonist Joe Golberg (Penn Badgley) and his truly pitch-perfect voiceover work, continues on its delightfully merry way, opening up the universe of the show in ways only the most confident and talented writers could pull off.
This time, Joe — now “Will” — has moved to Los Angeles to escape retribution from his not-dead ex Candice (Ambyr Childers) after the murder of his most recent girlfriend Gweneviere Beck (Elizabeth Lail) in Season 1. But why LA after years in New York? Because LA, according to Joe/Will, is the least likely place he’d ever go. He hates LA, and everything it stands for… until he meets “you.” The new “you” this season is Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti, previously of The Haunting of Hill House), a wealthy chef at her parents’ Erewhon-esque health food store, Anavrin (which, yes, is absolutely “nirvana” spelled backwards).
Love is a twin with an extremely codependent and troubled brother named Forty (James Scully), and an extremely LA group of friends (shout-out to Russian Doll’s Charlie Barnett for being such a transformative standout in every role he takes). Everything about Joe/Will’s new life is Peak LA, right down to the green juices and reiki cleanses — and he seems to fit in extremely well, much to his chagrin.
What happens next feels fairly easy to deduce without getting too spoilery: Candice hasn’t gone anywhere and she’s still on the hunt for Joe, to protect people from his murder-y, “but I’m a Good Guy!” routine. Once the two begin to spar in real time, things unfold about as derangedly as you would hope. As bonkers and campy (but in a much more LA way) as the first season, You continues to push Joe/Will on a journey towards love and lots and lots of murder, even though he swears he doesn’t want to do it. It’s a more hetero Hannibal for a pop-culture savvy, non-cannibal audience. With more insight into Joe’s origins, however, the series manages to mess with you all the more, reminding you constantly that any positive feelings you may be feeling are ultimately about a serial killer.
The show lives and dies on its leads, and with Badgley and Pedretti at the wheel, the series is in very good hands. Badgley has always been the series’ ace in the hole — taking voiceover that should be incredibly corny and actually acting the hell out of it, making it work in a way few voiceovers ever have — but opposite his new object of affection, the series seems elevated in a way it didn’t reach in Season 1. No shade on Lail, who played Beck exceedingly well, but Pedretti’s talents are next level engaging, and she plays Love Quinn with such an intriguing and riveting casual unsteadiness, you can’t help but root for these two to make it work. Her handle on Love’s nuances, secrets, and emotional headspace are a treat to watch, particularly opposite someone like Badgley.
You’s subversive look at romance, nice guys, good girls, and love, has always been exceedingly well done. Truly, few people are doing work as consistently well as Gamble, whose other series, The Magicians (on Syfy), also threads a needle that seems like it shouldn’t work but does oh-so well. But Gamble is a master of adaptation and elevation, making the source material of both her series shine that much brighter in her twisted hands. And though the season finale may be a divisive one for some, perhaps even leaving a little something to be desired in its rush to wrap it all up, who else is making shows that skewer and side-eye our most beloved tropes as well as Gamble and co. right now? Very few, that’s who. And that’s why there’s no shortage of love for a show like You.
You goes the distance in its second season, giving us plenty of reasons to hang around Joe Goldberg’s toxic Nice Guy Serial Killer Shack a little longer. You seems to make even more sense in a town like Los Angeles than New York City — and the show toys with all of those expectations and cliches with aplomb. As deliciously devious as the first outing, You Season 2 levels up the fun by being even more bonkers on the acting front, its supporting cast made up of mostly new faces that do not shy away from the scenery-chewing necessary to relay the series’ twisted heart. The show’s twists and turns take us places both expected and unexpected, putting a larger focus on the internal struggle of Joe’s obsessive personality. After the season ends, you’ll be all but begging for a Season 3.