Lifetime’s new drama “You,” based on Caroline Kepnes’ novel of the same name, may follow a man who stalks a woman, but the headline of the series is not that it’s a #MeToo story but that “privacy is gone,” according to showrunner Sera Gamble.
“It’s really, really hard not to have a social media footprint,” Gamble said at the Television Critics Assn. tour panel for the series Thursday. “Even if you’re not on social media, you probably have friends that are.”
Gamble added that such an interconnected world means it’s harder to protect the parts of one’s self that they may want to keep private. On the show, Joe (Penn Badgley) meets a young woman, Beck (Elizabeth Lail), in a bookstore and becomes intrigued by her — so much so that he begins to stalk her on social media.
“He uses [social media] in the way that it was sort of intended and we follow that to some dark conclusions,” Gamble said. “There is something so fundamental about this show that’s about things that almost universally women fear. And I think Caroline tapped into that in the book, and I think that men move through the world slightly differently than women.”
Executive producer Greg Berlanti added that social media acted as another character on the show and was so integral to the fabric of the series that it was used in the initial pitch process.
“We had just very casually looked up certain executives online and went in and described where their kids went to camp and the name of their housekeeper and stuff — really creepy, creepy stuff,” he shared.
But inherently, the idea of watching a female character literally through a male gaze, let alone the fact that he is spying on her life and manipulating certain elements of it to get closer to her, might lend itself to some more overt #MeToo storytelling. The way the show intends to subvert expectations, though, is that it starts with “how Joe sees [Beck] but as time goes on, we start to see her as she is and we can compare and contrast,” Gamble explained.
“She’s not just a puppet for Joe,” Gamble stressed of Beck. “I think in talking about how to adapt the novel the initial conversations we had…were a lot about how we wanted to portray this young woman in her early 20s, who has so much ambition and drive in her life. We wanted to get deeper into her life than we’d seen in many TV shows.”
Having a stalker “dimensionalizes” Beck in many ways, per Gamble, because of how deep they can dive via more than one perspective of the character.
As the titular troubled protagonist, Badgley admitted he is very interested to see how people respond to the show at this time in history. “I personally feel about it that it is a bit of a social experiment because it’s like a litmus test to see the mental gymnastics we’re still willing to [go through] to love an evil white man,” he said. “I think it will certainly add to the conversation and it will create its own conversation.”
Ahead of the panel, Lifetime announced “You” had been renewed for a second season, and like the second book, it will be switching settings from New York to Los Angeles for that second year, Gamble confirmed.
“It’s kind of a brutal takedown of Hollywood,” Gamble said of the second book. “I recognized myself in it. [We’re going to explore] seeing what people around here deserve.”