YOU Season 1 Episode 1 Review: The Becktel Test

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The fault in calling YOU a guilty pleasure is the implication that there is something to feel guilty about. 

It has been teased as a lurid tale of obsession and seduction, and it is. It's sexy, provocative, and thrilling. But YOU Season 1 Episode 1 also showed us that the series is witty, funny, and smart.

Joe Goldberg isn't self-aware, but the series itself is. It is hands down the best offering Lifetime has given us since the first season of UnREAL. I only hope it can keep up the momentum.

A Real Page-Turner

Penn Badgley as Joe is already intoxicating. The premiere primarily focused on him, and Badgley's performance is as unassuming as Joe is. He sneaks up on you, and it's the best possible outcome for a series where the protagonist is an antihero.

Joe is not the type of person that we should root for, and yet, we have an up close and personal peek into his character via voiceovers. It's an effective use of voiceovers reminiscent of Mr. Robot, except Joe isn't speaking to the audience but to Beck.

It's eerie and quietly menacing but also irresistible. The voiceovers are one of the strongest aspects of the premiere. They revealed everything there is to know about Joe in the moment. 

There are scary people in the world, Beck. That's why it's important to be safe, and why I have to do what I'm about to do.

Joe Voiceover

Joe is the "Nice Guy." He's smug, arrogant, and thinks of himself as superior to those around him, including Beck. He hides it well because on the surface he seems nice.

He thought he owned Beck -- that he was entitled to her the second she walked into the bookstore. As the hour progressed, it was evident that he made himself the hero of his own story, but most tellingly, the savior in hers.

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We overuse the term "sociopath" too often these days. We use it to refer to anyone we feel is "off" whether it's applicable or not. In doing so, we remove accountability for actions for the sake of having a neat category to toss someone.

Joe Incognito

It's easier to write off someone as a "monster" instead of facing the fact that regular humans are capable of evil. If we hold bad people accountable, then we'd have to acknowledge that we're capable of doing bad things, too.

Joe isn't a sociopath; he's familiar. You probably dated or are related to a Joe, or had a Joe hit on you. He's the problematic "Nice Guy" that everyone talks about these days. 

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You encounter a Joe every single day. The funny thing is the Joes never know that they're a Joe. That is where YOU masters the art of mirroring society and reflecting our own culture back to us so brilliantly that we enjoy the ride despite being read to hell and back.

No one is safe from Joe's biting commentary. However, it stings less because while he's formulating strong opinions about everyone around him (and us, by proxy), we're doing the same to him.

Beck: At the end of the day people really are disappointing, aren't they?
Joe: Sometimes they surprise you.

He makes snap judgments (some of which have legs), but he also exhibits a stunning lack of self-awareness in addition to being hypocritical and contrary.

In all of his assessments, he never factors himself into the equation. He has an aversion to social media, but he's adept at using it to the fullest extent to deep-dive into every aspect of Beck's life.

He harps on the importance of privacy and admits that Beck's openness is her least attractive trait, but he says this while peeking through her windows. He scours through her social media, cell phone, and laptop, watches her have sex with her ex-boyfriend, and pleasure herself.

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Joe talks about the dangers that lurk in the shadows as if he's not the danger in the shadows. He otherizes himself from the creeps because he doesn't believe he's a creep. The dissonance is astounding but also compelling.

A guy needs to protect himself. I had to make sure you're safe, and your name was a glorious place to start. Not a lot of Guinevere Becks. And there you were, every account sent to public. You want to be seen, heard, known, and of course, I obliged.
Born and raised Nantucket Island. A brother Clyde and sister Anya. Your parents really were assholes about the names. Your folks split when you were 12. Your dad dropped out of the picture.
Went to Brown where you majored in Lit. Cool. And minored in douchebags. Eh. And then on to NYC to conquer an MFA, and make your mark presumably. Now you still write, barely. Too busy living out moments you won't remember five years from now. I know this because you post about this life all the goddamn time. Candidly, it's the least appealing thing about you, Beck.

Joe Voiceover

He has convinced himself that he's not the exact type of person he warns Beck against. He wouldn't be this possessive of Beck and entitled to her affection if he were genuine in being a nice guy. 

There's also a matter of Joe being smart enough to differentiate Beck from "social media Beck." He knows most of the things she's putting online are a front. 

We all do it. 

On Instagram, we're a fashionista and foodie, when in reality, we're sitting at home in a ratty robe eating frozen dinners.

On Facebook, life is sunshine and rainbows, but the truth is we're struggling to make ends meet.

On Twitter, we're a hashtag activist, but in real life, we avoid walking past a homeless person because it's uncomfortable.

Facebook Stalking - YOU Season 1 Episode 1

He knows and often states that Beck's public persona isn't who she is, but he uses all of that to stoke his infatuation. He interprets what he wants from the information gleaned, forms a conclusion, and his conclusion drawn becomes fact.

He imposes his perception of her on her and obsesses over her as a result of it. It's creepy, like how he assumed she wanted him to know all of her personal information because she used a credit card instead of cash.

It's going to be exciting when Joe realizes Beck doesn't fit the mold in which he placed her. He thinks he knows her so well, and because we only know her through him, we can't be sure if Beck is how she seems. 

Right now, if Joe is the embodiment of a Millennial "Nice Guy," then Beck is the struggling Millennial woman. She's always connected and socializing but lonely in a crowd. Her confidence is a facade that hides that she's lost and doesn't know what she wants out of life.

Sweet Guinevere

Her friends aren't really her friends. She's a broke Liberal Arts major with dreams that are unattainable, or she doesn't work hard enough to achieve them. We don't know her as well yet.

All we know is what Joe thinks of her.  Besides, can we ever get a full picture of a person through their digital footprint? Of course not!

If anything, Joe has tipped us off that Beck is full of surprises. He certainly didn't anticipate Benji. Beck's ex is the closest the show came to satire. 

The beanie-wearing, goatee-sporting, rich kid trying to kickstart an artisanal beverage company was the quintessential hipster. Everything about him was deliberate right down to being a two-pump chump who gave Beck a backhanded compliment about her weight after failing to satisfy her.

The hair -- the privilege he tries to hide with retweets of Black Lives Matter. Not to sound judgy, but this guy is everything wrong with America. See, this is why I do my research. You fall for the wrong men -- bad men. You let them in. You let them hurt you.

Joe Voiceover

Joe's snarky assessment of Benji was laugh-out-loud funny. There was an irony to Joe's disdain for Benji being what's wrong with America when he is himself the same.

We're watching a handsome, dark-haired white guy with boundary issues and violent streaks violate a woman, and yet we find him endearing, charming, and funny. What does that say about us?

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We know how twisted and dangerous Joe is, but we still like him. In fact, we might even root for him and his romance with Beck despite the toxicity of their one-sided relationship.

Isn't that also part of what's wrong with society?

Paco - YOU Season 1 Episode 1

Joe selflessly gives Paco his sandwich and takes the kid under his wing, and suddenly Joe doesn't seem that bad. If Joe was selfless, wouldn't his violence be directed at Ron before Benji? 

Ron poses a more immediate threat because of his position, and he's perceptive and sees through Joe. Instead, Joe is consumed with removing threats from Beck's life, and Benji was at the top of the list. 

Who do you think is next?

Flirty Friends

Additional Notes:

  • I anticipated YOU being thrilling, but I was not prepared for it being this witty and funny. Badgley's delivery of lines is a hoot. "You waste of hair" nearly brought me to tears. 
  • Joe mentioned leaving home for a bit because he followed a girl. He also implied his last girlfriend broke his heart. Do you think she was his first victim? What happened to her? 
  • Did anyone laugh at Joe's evaluation of Peach? At first, he found her smart, concerned, and condescending. Later, he mentioned that she's disloyal. It's funny that he not only described himself, but Peach is infatuated with Beck and vying for her affection too. Something tells me she won't be so easy to get rid of though. 
  • I would love to know more about Joe's relationship with Mooney. There is something there, and it seems like he's reenacting it with his own relationship with Paco.

Over to YOU, hit the comments with your thoughts!

Pilot Review

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Jasmine Blu is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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YOU Season 1 Episode 1 Quotes

The most valuable things in life are usually the most helpless, so they need people like us to protect them.

Joe

A guy needs to protect himself. I had to make sure you're safe, and your name was a glorious place to start. Not a lot of Guinevere Becks. And there you were, every account sent to public. You want to be seen, heard, known, and of course, I obliged.
Born and raised Nantucket Island. A brother Clyde and sister Anya. Your parents really were assholes about the names. Your folks split when you were 12. Your dad dropped out of the picture.
Went to Brown where you majored in Lit. Cool. And minored in douchebags. Eh. And then on to NYC to conquer an MFA, and make your mark presumably. Now you still write, barely. Too busy living out moments you won't remember five years from now. I know this because you post about this life all the goddamn time. Candidly, it's the least appealing thing about you, Beck.

Joe Voiceover