Thursday, December 26, 2019

'You' and Penn Badgley are just as grotesquely addictive in Netflix's Season 2

No one is more merry and bright than stalker Joe Goldberg. 

The second season of Netflix’s “You” (★★★½ out of four) has arrived; it’s the perfect violent, depressing antidote to all that holiday cheer. 

Despite the mostly self-contained story in Season 1, “You” retains its thrills, chills and thoughtful questions about masculinity, abusers and modern relationships in new episodes. The action moves to Los Angeles and transplants Joe’s (Penn Badgley) violent affections onto a new unsuspecting woman, the ironically named Love (Victoria Pedretti, “The Haunting of Hill House”).

Most crucially, the season tweaks last year’s stalker/stalkee formula by adding Candace (Ambyr Childers), Joe’s ex-girlfriend and ex-victim, whom viewers suspected was dead in Season 1. Candace channels her rage and vengefulness into playing his game of lies and manipulation, worming her way into Love’s life, too. 

Interview: ‘You’ Season 2: Penn Badgley on the burden of playing a charming stalker on Netflix

Penn Badgley returns as Joe in Season 2 of "You." (Photo: Beth Dubber/Netflix)

“You” returns with Joe, who murdered his last love, Beck (Elizabeth Lail), and got away with it at the end of Season 1, as he runs away from Candace. He moves to L.A. because he hates it there, and he doesn’t think Candace will ever look for him among the palm trees, Instagram posts and celebrities.

Adopting the pseudonym Will, he sees Love, with whom he becomes instantly obsessed, and he manipulates his way into her life and heart even faster than he did with Beck. He begins committing his litany of crimes earlier this time around (yes, the plexiglass book cage returns). 

New York was such an integral part of the story and the tone of Season 1 that fans might be nervous that L.A. is a little too sunny for Joe’s dark deeds. But “You” smartly uses the city to its advantage, adding a smidgen of celebrity culture critique and subjecting the emo bookworm to hippie retreats with the owners of a grocery store even earthier than Whole Foods.

Victoria Pedretti as Love and Penn Badgley as Joe on "You." (Photo: Beth Dubber/Netflix)

“You” has always dared its audience to root for its sadistic antihero, presenting Joe as a conventionally attractive, ostensibly perfect protagonist, then contrasting that persona with his malicious deeds. Season 2 does more than exhibit Joe’s crimes; the writers make Candace a central and worthy antagonist. She plays Joe’s game of pretend, but she’s also a deeply scarred woman he abused (their full history is revealed as the season progresses). Her pain takes precedence in the story over his increasingly desperate missions to please Love, and it’s a welcome shift in perspective. As fun as it is to watch Joe’s path of mayhem and destruction, it’s easy to be caught up in the thrills of the crimes he commits, unchecked. Candace provides a much-needed reality check. 

Ambyr Childers as Joe's resurfaced victim Candace on "You." (Photo: Beth Dubber/Netflix)

When the series debuted on Lifetime, its original home, in fall 2018, it won critical praise (some of it from me) but barely registered as a blip in the vast world of TV. Fast forward to last December, when the series arrived on Netflix and became a sensation. 

Season 1 Review: In addictive ‘You,’ Penn Badgley is even creepier than in ‘Gossip Girl’

Netflix was always the proper place for “You,” which is best viewed in one or two sittings with snacks and a drink to spit-take whenever Joe does something horrifying. In its second season, producers Greg Berlanti (“The Flash”) and Sera Gamble (“The Magicians”) lean in to their new home as the series becomes far more violent and complicated. They prove this kind of thriller, which does not usually age well past a single season (see: “Revenge”), has legs that can potentially carry it for years.

If “You” keep watching, of course. 

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'You' and Penn Badgley are just as grotesquely addictive in Netflix's Season 2

No one is more merry and bright than stalker Joe Goldberg.  The second season of Netflix’s “You” (★★★½ out of four) has arrived; it’s the pe...