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While plenty of audience members didn’t watch soapy stalker drama You until it hit Netflix, it did originally air on Lifetime — which gave the series an early season two renewal ahead of its premiere. But its streaming home is now its permanent home, as Netflix picked up season two after the cable network reversed course and passed on what was, for it, a low-rated and expensive series.
Netflix originally signed on as the streaming home for the Greg Berlanti-produced drama, helping to offset Lifetime’s costs. What happened next illustrated the strength of the streaming behemoth. The company revealed that You was on pace to be seen by 40 million households within its first four weeks of streaming. That dwarfed the 1.1 million average viewers who tuned in on basic cable network Lifetime.
Season one followed quiet bookseller Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), whose crush on aspiring writer Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail) turned deadly when he became obsessed with and started stalking her. Season two sees Joe jet to Los Angeles to escape the mess of his relationship with Beck (and the arrival of a certain ex-girlfriend he thought was dead).
Ahead of season two’s Dec. 26 premiere, co-creator Sera Gamble tells The Hollywood Reporter what to remember about the first cycle and what to know about the new episodes.
What Happened in Season One
Joe’s crush on Beck wasn’t innocent — it turns out he was stalking her, and even killed her best friend when she discovered his ill intentions. When Beck found out, Joe killed her, too, and framed her therapist Dr. Nicky (John Stamos) for the crime. Just when he thought he’d gotten away with it, his ex-girlfriend Candace (Ambyr Childers) — the one he thought he’d killed before Beck — returned.
It’s Based on a Book (Sort Of)
Season one of You was based largely on Caroline Kepnes’ book of the same name, with one major diversion toward the end — Joe’s ex-girlfriend Candace is actually alive. That character plays a major role in season two, which is loosely based on You‘s Los Angeles-set sequel, Hidden Bodies.
“When we realized in season one that we were working our way toward the end and we knew we wanted this twist that Candace was not actually dead, immediately it was clear to us — and this will make sense to people who have read the book — that Candace would essentially become Amy Adams, who was a former love interest slash antagonist for Joe in the second book,” Gamble says.
But there are major diversions in season two, as well — a necessity when translating a book to screen. “As you translate a book into filmed entertainment, it evolves and changes and characters take on aspects that just are different than what’s in a book both because the plot diverges, and also because an actor is an actual human person saying the words and they bring qualities to each line that you could not have predicted.”
NYC —> LAX
One of the biggest changes of the season is the move from New York City to Los Angeles, a bright and sunny setting for a dark and twisted story.
“I’m a huge fan of L.A. noir, and we talked a lot about that genre as we were starting the season, both visually and just the content,” Gamble says. “I mean, Los Angeles is a sunny place but it is a very dark place. It’s a place where people come to reinvent themselves so it seemed pretty perfect for Joe.”
It’s in Los Angeles where Joe meets the new object of his affection: Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti), a wealthy aspiring chef with a co-dependent twin brother, Forty (James Scully). Other key new characters include his apartment super/new friend Delilah (Carmela Zumbado), Delilah’s precocious teen sister Ella (Jenna Ortega) and famous comedian Henderson (Chris D’Elia). Russian Doll‘s Charlie Barnett and Heathers‘ Melanie Field appear as two of Love’s BFFs.
Lifetime —> Netflix
Although Lifetime ordered a second season of You before the first premiered, the series averaged about 1.1 million viewers (and only 611,000 in same-day ratings) throughout the course of its cable run. Once it hit Netflix, however, it was on track to be watched by 40 million member households in its first four weeks on the service, and the streamer picked up season two as a Netflix original series (producers Warner Bros. remain involved).
“There wasn’t a huge amount of adjustment that was required creatively, because Netflix were partners along the way during season one as well. They liked the show. That’s why they were picking it up,” Gamble says. “And they made it very clear to all of us that they wanted us to deliver the same show, essentially. In their minds, there was nothing particularly broken about it. So if anything we were encouraged to use some of the same principles that you use when you’re making commercial television, more maybe then a streaming show that can be basically any length and doesn’t have commercial breaks. When you’re breaking something for commercial cable, you are constantly thinking about what that next twist or cliff-hanger is because people better be interested if you’re going to cut to a tampon commercial. So we retained that spirit when we were breaking the episodes.”
Unlike other streaming series, every episode of You season two runs 50 minutes or less.
“Greg Berlanti and I are both really used to cutting things really tight for a 42- to 44-minute runtime and I have to say there were a couple of times in season one where that was just a little bit of a bummer, because what got left on the floor was just some extra great, nuanced moments, usually from Penn, that weren’t crucial to the storytelling, but would have been really nice to retain,” Gamble says. “And so that’s the conversation he and I had as we moved to Netflix. We both agreed that we should use that leeway just to make sure that the character work was really dialed in. But nobody was excited to get super indulgent and frankly, we’re not really a show that’s made at that really incredible price point that enables you to just go shoot forever and forever. We’re like a working-class TV show. We’re trying to give you something that looks really, really great, and that comes with limitations and we embrace those.”
Built to Binge?
One key change in the move to Netflix, however, is the fact that the series is being released as a binge rather than weekly. But Gamble says she didn’t actually change anything when breaking the show for the binge model.
“I think that the culture of bingeing TV has already influenced the way that everybody makes television. It’s been like that for the last few years because most TV shows that are airing on actual TV, as it were, have a second window on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon,” she explains. “Creators are very aware that it will eventually be binged and I tend to think that some of the principles that make really great week-to-week TV are exactly the same as what makes a good binge, which is a combination of giving you characters that you really are interested in, and then twists in the plot that make you really want to see what happens next, whether that means you just tell Netflix continue, or you hang on for another week.”
A bonus, though, is the fact that things can get a little more risqué in sex scenes than they would have on cable, and characters can drop F-bombs liberally.
“I have always been that writer that wants to die on fuck hill. This is a fight that I personally have been fighting since I was working for The CW. This is just me speaking personally, stuff that I chat about with the writers and with Greg Berlanti. This is just my little soapbox: I have always felt that constraints on language were bullshit, and that it was sort of ridiculous. Beyond making actual children’s television that airs quite early in the day and is accessible through parental controls, I just feel that these mandates are sort of puritanical. I know I’m ranting a little tiny bit, but I feel like, ‘Fuck, I’m a writer, I want to use all the words,’ so I frequently have a rousing debate about it with my creative partners at studios and networks. They hear where I’m coming from and they’re doing what they can, but it’s pretty great to be working for Netflix because I think that they’re essentially on the same page. We’ve come to a place just in the landscape of TV where it’s so competitive that if you don’t give your creators as complete a toolbox as possible, they’re not gonna be able to compete with people on HBO, who get to say and do and show and speak however the fuck they want.”
And the sexual content can be more true to life as well: “For me, the two most important things are language and then also having the ability to really have the creative conversation with your partners about the sexual content in the show. There’s an unconscious undercurrent in our culture at large that comes out in the way notes tend to be given generally in television — and I’m certainly not pointing fingers at any of my partners that I’ve worked with over the years because I’ve worked with some really great progressive, amazing executives — but I do think that as a culture we’re especially puritanical around female pleasure. We talked about that a lot in the sex scenes on this particular show — that part of our job in comparing and contrasting Joe’s point of view with a more objective point of view on what’s happening is really about exploring what exactly is the camera looking at during a sex scene? And the only way we can do that is if we have the general permission to shoot that.”
Staying the Same
Ultimately, Gamble says, the series will be very much like the first season viewers latched on to. It was a relief to Gamble, Berlanti and their writers that audiences understood what they were trying to say with the series.
“We’re a show where a man is committing a lot of acts of violence and violation, particularly against women…but in order to really explore why so much of the beloved entertainment of our culture centers on men like Joe, we had to have Joe be a guy like that. When you’re taking a creative risk like that and you’re trying to hit such a very strange, particular tone, there’s always the possibility that people will look at it and be like, ‘Why the fuck did you make another show where it features violence? What are you trying to say?’ So we were really excited and relieved because we worked really hard to find that tone. And so as that response came in, I think we gained confidence that the audience is on the same page with the people making the show just in terms of like, ‘What is this experiment? What is this road we’re going down with Joe?’ We all agree that he’s not a character who exists to be redeemed. He kind of exists to be slowly peeled apart like an onion and then burned to the fucking ground over the course of the series. That was the feeling of excitement in the room, especially once we realized how many people had actually watched the show — that we had this glorious playground now where we could really go deep on these things that bother us so much that we want to write about.”
You season two premieres Thursday, Dec. 26, on Netflix.
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