If you’ve visited Netflix‘s homescreen in the past week, you were probably greeted by Penn Badgley, complete with new professorial beard and tweed suit, smouldering intensely into the camera as a sea of London buses whizz past behind him. Yes, Joe the sexy, bookish serial killer is back with for the fourth season of You.
he show is just as popular as ever – it premiered at number one on Netflix, with over 90 million hours viewed in its first week alone, while #YouNetflix racked up over a billion views on TikTok.
Clearly, we can’t get enough of Joe Goldberg and his murderous misadventures in London – but something doesn’t seem to add up. To put it bluntly, season four of You is bad. So why are we all so obsessed with it?
You has always been something of a guilty pleasure show. Based on the novels by Caroline Kepnes, the show follows Joe Goldberg (Badgley), a reclusive literary type with the chiselled jawline and floppy hair of a ’90s rom-com hero – oh yeah, and a bad habit of stalking, kidnapping and murdering in the name of love.
In the first season, it was the clueless Beck. In seasons two and three, it was the aptly named Love – who, it turns out, just so happened to be a psychopathic killer, too.
The show’s main claim to fame was its ability to give us gripping, edge-of-your-seat stuff that was so over-the-top it became fun. But it also played with some interesting ideas – the sinister side of contemporary misogyny, the conflation of obsession and love in pop culture and the problem with our reaction to the “handsome killer”, to name a few.
This season, the show has switched things up. Now, Joe is living as Jonathan Moore, a literature professor at an unnamed London university. At first, Joe is determined to bid his killing days farewell. Then, he falls in with a group of wealthy friends and, soon enough, they start dying – but this time, Joe isn’t actually the killer. Instead, he is transformed into a pseudo-detective as the mysterious new “eat-the-rich-killer” tries to blackmail him into rejoining the dark side.
You has never exactly been high art, but this season, the show is worse than ever. By abandoning its tonal and structural foundations in favour of a tongue-in-cheek whodunnit-meets-eat-the-rich revamp, the show loses what little nuance it once had.
In previous seasons, the show used complex, well-developed characters to deliver its piercing social commentary. In its fourth season, it focuses on a limp murder mystery and a group of poorly drawn caricatures – a posh Etonian who bemoans the “peasants”, an Instagram model who hosts shooting parties at her country estate, a billionaire’s son wasting daddy’s money, and so on. In fact, the season is filled with similar eye roll-inducing cliches.
There’s the ultra glossy version of British academia that gives us a strangely New England-esque quad in the middle of London and a professor who apparently has no research or publishing responsibilities. There’s the group of oblivious wealthy aristocrats partying in London clubs and saying things like: “Sit tight, I’m going peasant hunting.”
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None of it feels new or exciting or fresh or particularly thought-provoking. What’s left is the goofy side of You. But, as an Empire review notes, that’s why we really tune in anyway. “It’s still preposterous, and all kinds of schlocky, which is just the way its fans like it,” reviewer David Opie wrote.
The schlock is, after all, what we’ve always really loved about the show. There’s the smouldering stares, the gravelly voiceover and the intense but predictable romance. And then there’s that uniquely silly brand of dramatic tension that manages to be both high stakes for the characters and low stakes for the viewer. Add some extravagant designer costumes and lavish London sets into the mix and what you are left with is the epitome of addictive, guilty pleasure television.
As a reviewer in The Guardian put it: “Whether You is any good or not is almost beside the point at this stage. It is entertaining, but it is also sort of awful, which means it hits that sweet spot of Netflix ambience.”
With season four of You, there’s no denying that Netflix is doing what Netflix does best – addictive, fun, stupid TV. And as bad as it is, we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Part one of You season 4 is available to stream now on Netflix, and part two premieres on March 9.