×

‘You’ Boss Breaks Down Adapting Joe Goldberg’s Gaze for the Small Screen

When Sera Gamble and Greg Berlanti sat down to co-write the pilot of “You,” based on Caroline Kepnes’ novel of the same name, the first decision they made, Gamble says, was to start the story in the same place as the book — inside protagonist Joe Goldberg’s head as he first catches sight of his soon-to-be obsession Beck in the bookstore where he works. “That inner monologue was the key to the whole thing,” Gamble explains. “The voice of the entire novel is the second person, intimate monologue of Joe’s true thoughts, and in the show, you’re experiencing his behavior and how he talks to everyone in the outside world, and it becomes even more about the friction between what he is saying and what he is doing.”

Making the Male Gaze
The first word of Kepnes’ novel is literally “You,” as Joe narrates seeing Beck for the first time, well before he knows her name, describing what he observes, as well as what he presumes, based on the way she is dressed and how she carries herself. And although the show would eventually dig deeper with Beck, it opens on a shot of her through Joe’s eyes as well. Similarly, Gamble and Berlanti fell in love with certain lines and references from Kepnes’ story, such as the specific detail of the fiction section of “F through K,” and kept them in what became Joe’s opening voiceover.

“It needed to be clear from the very outset that Joe is extremely literary and very well-read and that he is sort of Sherlock Holmes when he looks at you,” Gamble says.

Where they saw room to make changes, though, was in removing references to Beck being “embarrassed to be a good girl” so that Joe wouldn’t immediately come off as a guy who just “looks at every woman and judges her as a virgin or a slut,” Gamble notes.

Additionally, details such as the fact that Beck was wearing a sweater and jeans in the scene in the book just didn’t work for the show’s setting or actor, so they switched the wardrobe, including adding “jangly bracelets,” which stand out to Joe.

“Here is somebody that’s beautiful to him and he is seeing things about her clothes that seem to be more engineered for comfort, but then little aspects that give him a clue that she wants to be looked at,” Gamble says.

Reconsidering Romance
Although book readers would know just how dark Beck’s fate was after getting involved with Joe, Gamble took great care not to make it so obvious from the jump in the show.

“In order to make the structure of the episode work for the TV show, that first scene needs to positively function as a pure romantic comedy scene. It’s a meet-cute and it shouldn’t feel creepy,” she says. Before they could subvert certain tropes in the genre, they had to deliver them recognizably, she adds.

“We even got some early notes that in the first five minutes of the show you can’t really tell where it’s going. But to me, that was the thesis of the whole show: You can’t really tell. So if this feels like a romantic comedy to you, let’s look at other things that look like a romantic comedy to you and non-judgmentally admit to one another that we enjoy stories about men who transgress and take away agency and save the day by maybe even killing people. It was really, really important to us to preserve the idea that this was two young, good-looking people in a bookstore who maybe have some stuff in common — until you push into his eyes at the end of that scene and you’re like, ‘Wait a minute…’”

More TV

  • Inside Taronga Zoo

    Nat Geo Wild and More 4 Snap Up Australian Doc Series 'Inside Taronga Zoo'

    Cineflix Rights has pre-sold Australian wildlife documentary series “Inside Taronga Zoo” to Nat Geo Wild for the U.S. and More 4 for the U.K. The 10 part series is produced by McAvoy Media for Nine Network Australia, where it will air as “Taronga: Who’s Who In The Zoo.” “Inside Taronga Zoo” follows the 240 keepers and vets caring for [...]

  • Watchmen HBO

    TV Review: 'Watchmen'

    “Watchmen,” the 1980s DC Comics series whose popularity demands adaptation and whose singular vision makes that near-impossible, might be too much itself to bring out the best in any artist. But it has brought out the most in Damon Lindelof. As a follow-up to HBO’s “The Leftovers,” Lindelof returns to the cabler to remix and [...]

  • Mary Higgins Clark

    Reel One, Element 8 and La Sabotière to Develop Mary Higgins Clark's Crime Novels

    Montreal-based producer and distributor Reel One Entertainment has partnered with U.S. producer Element 8 Entertainment and Paris-based La Sabotière to develop an anthology series based on the novels of American crime writer Mary Higgins Clark. U.S. screenwriter and author Ilene Rosenzweig, whose credits include “Station 19” and “Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce,” is attached as writer [...]

  • Informer

    Mipcom Roundup: All3Media and Blue Ant Sell in Asia, Lagardère Buys in Spain

    In Variety’s third Mipcom Roundup Alibaba’s streaming platform Youku gets BBC programs, Lagardère buys full ownership of Barcelona’s Veranda, Banijay rolls out Guinness World Records series, Blue Ant International sells and renews and All3Media Intl. extends into Japan and Taiwan. All3Media Strikes Deals in Japan, Taiwan All3Media has grown its footprint in Asia thanks to newly announced [...]

  • Help Wanted: Amazon Studios International Execs

    Help Wanted: Amazon Studios International Execs Talk European Expansion

    If there’s a perfect example of Amazon Studios’ strategy with its local-language international TV content, Japan’s “Documental” would be it. The series revolves around 10 comedians who battle to make one another laugh in an elimination-style competition. James Farrell, Amazon Studios’ head of international originals, said it was a good example of an unconventional idea [...]

  • vernon-subutex

    Studiocanal Closes North America SVOD on ‘Vernon Subutex’ with Topic (EXCLUSIVE)

    CANNES —  Forging what could well be a fertile relationship, Studiocanal has sold North American SVOD rights on Canal Plus Creation Original “Vernon Subutex,” and “Pros and Cons,” from Denmark’s SAM Productions, to First Look Media’s Topic. Targeting “culture cravers,” “an audience deeply involved in social, political and cultural issues of today,” general manger Ryan [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content