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"I spent the first day of 2019 increasingly petrified of Penn Badgley in Netflix's YOU."

When I woke up/stumbled in from my New Year’s Eve party yesterday morning at an hour I’m too ashamed to disclose, it was a picturesque day in coastal South Australia.

The birds were singing, the sun was shining and the ocean was calling, because everyone knows immersing yourself in cold, salty water is the perfect cure for a hangover. Plus, what better way to kick off the year than on the beach dissecting the previous night’s antics with friends and family?

…But also, nah.

Instead of squeezing my hungover bod into a bikini yesterday, I decided to hole myself up in my parent’s living room in the dark and watch all ten episodes of psychological thriller, YOU.

Yep, I started my 2019 off right.

Questionable choice aside, I just couldn’t look away.

YOU is the type of utterly nail-biting series, a la Dexter or Search Party, that sucks you in and threatens to never spit you back out.

Well, that is until you get to the end of the season and are horrified to discover you’d not only wasted an entire day of precious holidays, but had not a single episode left to devour.

Let me explain:

YOU follows, with bone-chilling effect, the story of a mysterious book store manager with a devastating past, Joe (played by Penn Badgley), who becomes besotted with sunny, blonde, aspiring writer Beck (Elizabeth Lail) for her quick wit and sophisticated taste in literature.

So obsessed, he proceeds to find her address and loiter outside her curtainless apartment watching her lounge around in a towel (which she does a lot, actually) while furiously masturbating on a busy Manhattan street.

And that’s not even the worst of it.

Yeah – Lonely Boy is all grown up. All grown up and absolutely terrifying. 

Joe is, essentially, a very dark version of his character Dan Humphrey in Gossip Girl; still a literary snob with an annoyingly rich vocabulary, still hopelessly obsessed with statuesque blondes… only now he’s pure evil.

We’re not talking creating the entire “Gossip Girl” facade to destroy his privileged peers from the inside evil (oh, spoilers, if you’ve never watched Gossip Girl).

…We’re talking “this is the new face of your nightmares” evil.

In many ways, the entire series is similar to Gossip Girl. It begins by following the shallow plights of privileged, painfully selfish New York millennials and their lower-class friends desperately clambering for relevance among the throngs of the upper-echelon.

Come to think of it – there’s not a single likeable character in YOU; they’re all incredibly flawed in their self-obsession, yet somehow, so, so watchable.

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Case in point: Joe, the show’s protagonist, whose very hollow-cheeked and deep-set eyed (yet boyishly handsome) appearance will send shivers down your spine, even before he lets out the skin-crawling forced whisper which narrates the entire series.

Joe is the type of villain who captures your attention from the get-go, even though you despise everything about his uneasy presence and morbid thought process. You’re actively willing for him to get caught, but part of you… kinda doesn’t want him to. Because watching him chase Beck, uncovering the dark secrets of her peers and committing sickeningly-evil acts along the way is nothing short of addictive.

It’s… f*cked up. And, in case you haven’t gathered – doesn’t make for uplifting watching (it’s dark in both subject matter and cinematography).

It’s this for which Badgley should be applauded – his acting is utterly incredible, so much so that if I saw him in the street I might be inclined to RUN. It’s the same sort of acting feat that has me shuddering every time I see Anthony Hopkins in a film for his bone-chilling portrayal of Hannibal Lecter.

Penn Badgley's performance is absolutely chilling. Image: Youtube.
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Joe has somehow convinced himself he’s the hero of a romantic comedy, not a deeply disturbed villain. He's a white knight; he's the guy whose come to save Beck - who herself is knee-deep in a form of existential crisis as she clings to a flailing career and meaningless, party-filled life attempting to keep up with her much wealthier friends.

She needs him. He's the guy who wants to cook her pancakes every morning and do her washing, pocketing pairs of lacy underwear for a depraved collection to admire at home along the way.

Yeah - he doesn't get any less creepy even when they do eventually strike up a relationship. So much so, you might even find yourself yelling at Beck (ahem, the screen) for not noticing.

Beck is played by Elizabeth Lail, from fantasy series Once Upon a Time.

What makes YOU such incredible watching is that each episode is almost like a film in itself - while it's extremely gripping, it also means you can duck in and out of it when you need a break, and won't need to catch anyone up who sits down to join you in your hangover nest halfway through the season.

Sometimes, it does get a little slow and dialogue-heavy - in some ways lost in its own twisting plot, which is a shame.

As high-paced as it is in its exceptional moments (usually down in Joe's creepy bookstore basement where he, um, "does his thing"), I found myself wondering whether it would have worked better as a feature film. But there are too many pivotal plot points which would be needed to be cut to condense it. Nevertheless, it never loses you, maintaining its edge throughout the entire ten episodes, and leaving you wanting more.

As much as I'm pleased I've come to the end of the season (honestly - I feel like I can breathe again), I wouldn't recommend watching it all in one sitting. Draw it out, like Joe does for his victims, and ready yourself for recurring nightmares of Penn Badgley's face.

Now, excuse while I change all my passwords and pull the curtains down.

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