YOU (Season Two)

The second season of YOU was an absolute nightmare. It was a disaster in just about every conceivable fashion, if I’m being frank. Now, this isn’t to say that the first season was some high-brow piece of art, or, truly, even that good, because at best, it was fine. It had some fun moments, even if it featured a ton of horribly cheesy dialogue and a hyper-aggressive portrayal of violence towards women from practically every character, but it didn’t amount to anything other than “fine”. Anybody who started YOU knew exactly what they were getting into. It never claimed to be thought-provoking or deep. It was pulpy, trashy, and stupid, but at times, so absurd and campy that it transcended all of that and became fun.

Of course, that first season had an awfully predictable ending, which was a shame, because for much of that first season, it managed to be somewhat shocking time and again (whether that was due to legitimately good writing or not is up for debate), but it wasn’t such a bad finale that the whole season was sunk. The issue with that finale moreso, was that it left room for another season, something that nobody on this planet genuinely needed. Regardless, I had watched the first season and liked it alright enough, and one of my favorite comedians, Chris D’Elia had a supporting role in the second season, so I was hesitantly okay giving a second season a shot.

I made a dastardly mistake.

Penn Badgley (left) and Victoria Pedretti (right), looking as miserable at a funeral as the second season of YOU made me feel

Of the ten-episode season, I count two episodes that are passable-to-decent. The second episode, “Just the Tip” is good fun and feels awfully reminiscent of some of the more enjoyable episodes from the first season, featuring a plot that revolves around a character having their finger cut off and dealing with all of the implications that come with that. “Have a Good Wellkind, Joe!” isn’t an amazing episode by any stretch (at times, it feels like it’s blatantly ripping off one of the finest movies from 2019, MIDSOMMAR, but if MIDSOMMAR was made by a hack and not Ari Aster), but it was dumb enough to be amusing and arouse some sort of interest out of me.

The rest of the episodes from the second season of YOU bordered anywhere from miserably terrible to flat out boring, which is possibly worse. No episode was more grating than the borderline experimental eighth episode, “Fear and Loathing in Beverly Hills”, which felt like something a second-year film student could have made and attempted to pass off as “deep” and “artistic”, despite the fact that it was predictable, tedious, pretentious, and, most notably, painfully dull, even with it’s dazzling and colorful shots. This is a forgivable offense when the creative behind it is a 20-year-old film student, but less acceptable when it’s supposed to be the near-climax of the second season of one of the biggest streaming services in the world’s flagship TV shows.

Though the second season is a failure in most every regard, I would be remiss to not make note of any performance or aspect of the show deserving of praise. Carmela Zubado as “Delilah”, a neighbor and apartment manager of YOU’s protagonist, is one of the only cast members who shouldn’t be ashamed to show their face in public. Though she hasn’t had an extensive acting career by any stretch up to this point, she displayed that she’s a true professional with her work during the wretched second season, delivering the schlock-dialogue that “writers” put on pages and gave her to recite every week in a way that was sincere and, at the appropriate times, fiery. Her Delilah was full of gusto and enough of a spark that whenever she was on screen, I was usually invested.

Carmela Zubado, trying her hardest to be a professional

Penn Badgley should also feel no shame in being seen out in public for his portrayal of protagonist “Joe Goldberg”. Though I thought he was stronger in the first season of YOU than the second, I am going to chalk that up to the fact that the writing diminished from campy and fun garbage to downright miserably bad, which is outside of his control. As an actor, Badgley has always been capable enough, if not slightly unremarkable, dating back to his days as “Dan Humphrey” in GOSSIP GIRL (a show that evoked the same type of feelings out of me while watching as the first season of YOU did). In YOU, especially the first season, he’s given more to do and more of the responsibilities of the show’s success or failure rests on his shoulders (in GOSSIP GIRL, he was one of six principals) and he handles it effortlessly.

Badgley is extraordinarily watchable, even downright amusing, as he portrays one of the worst characters on television. Just like in the first season, his voiceover work and narrations continue to be one of the most essential aspects of the show and one of the few bits from the first season that was executed about as effectively in the second season. Badgley manages to make a truly despicable character quite charming and he is deserving of praise for that. And the fact that he’s able to get all of his lines out without laughing and calling out all of the writers for being embarrassing is also commendable. You can tell Badgley resents the fact that he’s stuck doing this gig whenever you see any interviews with him, so it makes me happy to know that he has some slight bit of integrity and self-awareness. It would be lovely to see Badgley work on a project involving anybody with any sort of acclaim, but unfortunately for us, YOU has been renewed for a third season.

Penn Badgley, doing his best to not laugh on his way to deliver terrible dialogue

In this second season, three characters were awful and had far too much screen time devoted to them: Love Quinn (Joe’s love interest), Forty Quinn (Love’s brother), and Ellie (Delilah’s younger sister). Though I found her character to be absolutely irritating, I won’t spend much time attacking Jenna Ortega for her work as Ellie, mostly because she’s only 17 and absolutely blameless as far as the dialogue she was given. She delivers her lines adequately, but her character is exasperating to watch.

James Scully plays Forty Quinn. Forty is frustrating, because of the three problem characters from this season, he manages to at times give by far the best performance in some moments and also be by far the worst during others. A reoccurring issue with this season that the first season didn’t experience nearly as much was the trouble of finding the balance between playing things straight (with bad dialogue, it can almost become more entertaining when it’s taken super seriously) and playing up the camp. The first season found that balance pretty well, and thus, it was enjoyable at times. Scully is good enough in the moments where he’s allowed to really dig into the camp and just play it up, but too often, he’s expected to play things that shouldn’t be played straight straight, or he tries to play things mostly straight but with a little bit of camp. When he does this (he does it more frequently in later episodes), he falls flat on his face and fails. Season two of YOU suffers from not knowing how to manage tones, and Scully’s Forty is one of the major causes of that.

But far and away, the most glaring issue with this season of YOU (as far as performances go) is Joe’s love interest (??), Love Quinn, played by Victoria Pedretti. I’m sure Pedretti is trying her best, but it just isn’t good enough. She’s like an anchor on a ship that already has major leaks: The ship is going down anyways, but she makes it sink at a much more rapid speed. In the first season, Joe’s love interest, Beck (Elizabeth Lail), drew lots of criticism, whereas Pedretti seems to have drawn near-universal praise for her work here. That simply baffles me and leads me to wonder if I watched a different program than everybody else.

Pedretti is boring to watch. Her motivations are almost never fleshed out and she’s given some of the worst dialogue in the show. Even though Beck wasn’t an incredible character, because season one spent a lot of time with Joe watching Beck from afar, when they finally came together, their relationship felt a bit more organic and natural. The first time Joe and Love meet each other and talk, it sounds like two aliens from different planets trying to communicate for the first time (they bump into each other in a grocery store and have an extended scene about how peaches look like butts). Only a few episodes later (where less than two weeks have passed), Joe and Love have a high-stakes and tense fight that feels like something that would occur after two people have been together for years. It’s nonsensical.

Victoria Pedretti, making the second season of YOU markedly worse

She suffers from the same issue that Scully as Forty does, too, in that she can never quite balance juggling playing things super straight or playing up the camp. Unlike Scully, she can never really manage to do either well, instead always just plays everything right in the middle, which is the worst thing she could do (centrism is never the answer). I don’t think she’s a bad actress, but she isn’t good enough to ever elevate beyond the awful dialogue she has to work with. She also has the single worst line in the season, which was so bad that I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and laugh out loud with utter contempt (“Umm… I wolf you.”).

The single biggest problem with this season of YOU (and with most bad television/movies) is the writing. Like in football and how it doesn’t matter how talented the players on your team are if they have a bad coach/scheme (see: The Dallas Cowboys in 2019 with Jason Garrett), television isn’t that different. If you don’t have a good script or somebody with a solid vision helming your project, it will fail. And I’m sure Pedretti and Scully are totally fine performers when working with the right director and when given a competent script, but… they never get a chance to show that in this season of YOU, which is a shame. Even the twist at the end of the season was so incredibly lame and predictable that it ruined any shot of there being tension leading up to it or a surprise when it happens.

Your friends might tell you that the second season of YOU is good. It currently sits at a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes (on 31 reviews). Don’t listen to your friends. I promise you that they don’t know what they’re talking about. The second season of YOU is a disaster and sadly, it’s not even a fun disaster. It’s boring and safe and worst of all, it thinks it’s more important than it actually is, which makes it all the more shameful. Netflix didn’t have to care about making anything actually good, because people loved the first season so much and couldn’t stop talking about it so they knew everybody would stream it. They set up a trough and they knew all the piggies would come out and eat the slop, as they fed audiences (me included) hackneyed garbage. I implore that none of use eat the slop when season three comes out.

2/5

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