As deep as we are into TV’s golden age, by now we are all inured to the antihero. We think nothing of rooting for a mob boss, drug kingpin or serial killer. Keep us entertained and your shortcomings are really your own business. It should, therefore, be no problem whatsoever for us to warm to You, now showing on Netflix. An adaptation of Caroline Kepnes’ novel of the same name, it’s a sparky, funny tale of unreliable narrator Joe wooing aspiring writer Beck by stalking her social media accounts and manipulating his way into a relationship with her.
And this Joe is certainly a charmer. His narration is crammed with one-liners on the crass idiocies of pop culture and harsh judgments on Beck’s lovers (“if he came anywhere close to making you come, you’d have made a Broadway show out of it”) and friends (“your wealthy girlfriends have just now woken up and have nothing better to do than plan their next pointless yet Instagrammable night”). Joe knows only too well that Instagram is a lie, Twitter is a botfest and Facebook a cesspit – but he also knows that’s where the good stuff is. Knowledge is power and every self-revelatory nugget he mines tips the scales further in his favor in his pursuit of Beck.
like all the best monsters, he is a product of society. It’s like he says: “You can’t tell me [it’s] crazy. It’s the stuff of a million love songs.” Valorising the obsessive pursuit of an unobtainable target is a staple of the rom-com, the pop song, even the Bible story. It’s too easy to fall into the Love Actually trap of normalizing erotomania, treating it as adorable, even heroic. The trick is not to lose sight of what you’re portraying. You tread a fine line, giving Joe enough humanity to make him relatable but never making his actions defensible. It is smart enough to let us know that to sympathize with Joe is to be complicit in his crimes. Every time you feel you’re being drawn in, the show pulls the rug from under you and reminds you that he is not the romantic hero you are looking for. If the show you’re watching doesn’t do that, it is probably not love.