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Welcome to the 201st episode of TV’s Top 5, The Hollywood Reporter’s TV podcast.
Every week, hosts Lesley Goldberg (West Coast TV editor) and Daniel Fienberg (chief TV critic) break down the latest TV news with context from the business and critical sides, welcome showrunners, executives and other guests, and provide a critical guide of what to watch (or skip, as the case may be).
This week, You showrunner Sera Gamble joins the podcast to discuss the fourth season of Netflix’s Penn Badgley drama. The series, from exec producer Greg Berlanti, moves the action to London as the stalker drama also experiments with being split into two parts (with the second half of the season due in March). During the interview, excerpts of which you can read below, Gamble opens up about finding redemption for Badgley’s Joe Goldberg, if the character has to die in the end and how much more life is left in the drama that bounced from Showtime to Lifetime before breaking out on Netflix.
Other topics during this week’s TV’s Top 5 include headlines of the week, Disney’s latest reorg and Showtime’s franchise strategy. Plus Dan reviews ABC’s Not Dead Yet, Hulu’s Stolen Youth and HBO Max’s Harley Quinn special in the weekly Critic’s Corner segment.
Before we get into specifics about the new season of You, what do you see as the main issue of contention between the Writers Guild and the studios?
We have not really gotten started with these conversations within the guild; the first meetings are coming up. So, I will sit back and not jump to conclusions about whether there will be a strike or not. I’ve lived through one in my career, and I’m hoping that we will avert it. But as somebody who talks to a lot of writers at every level, everybody has something they’re concerned about. Whether they got into the business this year or have been creating shows for a decade, they have a big problem. It is time for us to seriously sit down and work on addressing this stuff.
We’ve recently seen an increase in completed shows being scrapped in favor of a tax write-down. Is that something that’s on your mind as you head into these negotiations?
It’s just one part of an ecosystem that has changed dramatically in the last few years. Welcome to the mature streaming age, there are a lot of kinks to work out! It’s a tough environment. We could do just an hour podcast on how I stay up at night worrying that things will be canceled or that we’ll make them and they’ll never see the light of day or they’ll disappear from streaming.
Franchise thirst is a big topic during this week’s TV’s Top 5. Given the interest in expanding even first-year shows into larger universes, has there been any conversation about growing You into a larger franchise?
I haven’t had any conversations with the powers that be about something like that. But in a writers’ room, people pitch on that all the time. Anytime there’s a relationship between two characters that they like, that aren’t front and center, they’re like, “Can we spin them off?!” But what you’re talking about with these companies, this is everyone trying to figure out how to make this system of television work.
This season is split into two parts, with the first now available and the second coming in March. How much of that decision was Netflix experimenting with the rollout strategy?
Netflix approached us. The structure split cleanly down the center of the season because [exec producer] Greg Berlanti and I have written so many midseason cliffhangers for old school [broadcast] television.
The fifth episode is absolutely a transitional point for the season on a narrative level. From your perspective, can you define tonal or pace differences that you would want to describe between part one and part two?
Episode one of the season, we present you with a murder mystery, a whodunit, and we will tell you who the killer is at the end of the first half. This season was never built to just be a whodunit; they’re very hard to keep going over multiple episodes. The idea was always to search for this killer and then find them and have the conversation shift the show into something that can only be done if Joe knows who he’s talking to.
Given the structural change, do you have a larger idea for how many more seasons You has left in it?
We have an idea for season five that we’re excited about. It was never anyone’s intention to run this one into the ground. When we’re done, we’ll be done. And we’ll pack it up. Even in the early conversations with Penn, the idea was not to crank out episodes forever; it’s to feel like we have told the complete story. And though I feel like tonally, we’re very different and we are not trying to sell Joe as any kind of a hero with a straight face. This is a show that is in the tradition of these single-lead shows with a guy who does increasingly bad things. The beautiful thing about it is that when his arc is complete, so is the show.
From a business perspective, in terms of the show’s different locations, how much are you selecting where you want to be based on what kind of tax incentives you can get?
It’s always part of the conversation because we are not one of those shows that rests on a pile of money. The show was originally built on a budget for Lifetime [which aired season one], a basic cable outlet. So, these things do come into consideration. Whenever we talk about anything production related, it’s like any challenge that you think about making television, just multiply it by five to start the conversation in the era of COVID. And that changes from month to month to month. And I’m sure it’s different for people who are going into production now than a few months ago. But every aspect of producing has been touched by the last couple of years. So, the least you can do for yourself is to go to a city that has some infrastructure, has a deep well of crew who know how to make things, a good acting pool and ideally, some kind of tax incentive.
But you’re still not going to rush to have the next season in Shreveport just because it happens to be cheaper to take Joe to Shreveport.
You’ll know what the next season would be when you see the end of this season. We tell you what the idea is.
When we left at the end of last season, it was Joe skulking around Paris looking for the most recent love of his life, so that, at least theoretically, could have opened the door to a Parisian season of the show. Was there any conversation about that? Or did you know London was where you want it to be?
There was conversation about Paris; we assumed the same thing when we left him there. Greg Berlanti’s company makes The Flight Attendant and has a lot of experience with going to several places in the course of a season. There was a practical, pretty surreal conversation that started to edge us over to London. The more we talked about the themes of the season and the kind of people we wanted to have Joe fall in with, the more we realized that it was going to be the beating heart of this old money aristocracy, as viewed through an American lens. The people we really think about, it’s Harry and Meghan, who are dominating the news cycle in the United States, not an aristocrat from France. We didn’t make the season to make fun of Americans; we did this to make fun of an American named Joe Goldberg.
Has your perspective shifted over the years writing this as to whether or not Joe is actually capable of change?
It has, and it hasn’t. He has at least tried to change a few times. This is a central theme of season four: Can he be redeemed? He comes to London after the events of the first episode and wants to stay out of trouble. And one of the locals that he meets in the first half is this author who has written a whole memoir about having done shady things earlier in his life and having a difficult childhood and rising above it and working to become a better person.
We made You right as the #MeToo movement exploded. We were in post on season one and we added a text about Harvey Weinstein because that was happening as we were finishing episode one. By the time that the show was out, every woman was talking about #MeToo in this way that everyone was optimistic about it. The conversation had changed. And here we are several years later and we’re making a season about an objectively horrible man who is going to do what it takes to redeem himself. And every time I check the news, it’s like some other guy who faced a consequence, we’re now talking about what he needs to do to redeem himself. And Joe is either enacting and performing or actually embodying the behaviors of redemption. I feel like I just watched the whole wave of that movement as we’ve been making the show about this guy.
So as long as Joe Goldberg is still out in the streets, cancel culture isn’t a real thing?
I hate that phrase so much. I don’t know when it happened, but you can’t say the word “cancel”; it’s become partisan in a way that is so far away from what we’re talking about. We have made a show about a guy who stalks women, who violates their personal lives, and has killed at least 10 people coming into season four. That to me, that’s not a partisan issue.
Can Joe Goldberg survive this series or does the series end when he dies?
That question is a spoiler. The conversation we have among the writers, between Greg and I, and a lot with Penn is about the fact that it would be nice to end his arc with some form of justice. Guys like this don’t usually see a lot of justice from the world. That’s challenging to plot. How does Joe Goldberg go down in a world where he’s been branding people with bricks in broad daylight for years? And he’s cute! And he gets away with it. The deeper question that we frequently pitch in the writers’ room is, what’s real justice? What would hurt him the most?
Listen to the full interview with Gamble, above, for more on season four of You.
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