Anatomy of the TV hit “You”: good book, creators, global reach
When veteran TV producer Greg Berlanti was asked to adapt the “You” novel about a seductive charmer with a killer streak, he immediately cast former “Supernatural” producer Sera Gamble as his collaborator.
It may sound “awful,” but it was the opposite, Berlanti says.
Caroline Kepnes’ book contained “all the great things I love about writing Sera. It’s luscious and addictive, but also very smart and clever, and has something to say about our culture, our society,” he said.
“You,” starring Penn Badgley as the violent and deranged Joe, became a global hit for Netflix after a low-key US debut on Lifetime. The drama, based on what has become a bestselling novel series, is in the works for its fourth season. The release date has not yet been announced.
“It’s always so hard to predict how TV is going to behave while you’re doing it. You really feel like you’re in a little production bubble,” said Gamble, the show’s co-creator and executive producer with Berlanti. She is ready to dissect success which she describes as exciting.
“I think part of the reason it appeals to people from all over the world is that what we explore about love and obsession is completely universal and translates into every human language possible,” she said.
“Everybody knows that feeling of wanting someone who might be bad for them and wanting to know things that they’re technically not supposed to know,” said Gamble, whose parents emigrated from Poland to the States. -United. “I don’t see why it would be any different in the United States than in India or Japan or anywhere else.”
The way Joe pursues his unfortunate objects of desire is through a mixture of old-fashioned in-person harassment combined with spying and social media manipulation. This allows “you” to satirically take advantage of people’s online pose and willingness to accept themselves at the value of Facebook, among other modern habits.
Bela Bajaria, head of global television for Netflix, said the streaming service has faith in producers Berlanti, whose extensive credits include “Riverdale,” “The Flash” and “The Flight Attendant,” and Gamble (“Physical “, “The Magicians”), with series lead Badgley (“Gossip Girl”).
“The scripts had a really strong voice, and (the story) had a really good thriller engine,” Bajaria said. “With Penn’s voiceover, it was very distinct and very entertaining, and we felt like it would work globally.”
Last fall, the release of season three of “You” was No. 1 for four weeks on Netflix’s top 10 shows tally, spending a total of eight weeks on the list that also repeatedly included seasons. one and two. The show was in the company of “Maid” and “Tiger King 2”.
For Berlanti, who received a copy of Kepnes’ 2014 novel from producer Warner Bros., the book sold like a TV project.
“I devoured it in a weekend, and that was right around the time people were starting to binge on shows, or at least talk about binge shows,” he said. He concluded that viewers would just as eagerly throw themselves at a show that would take the concept to the next level. But he had to team up with what he called “the right person”.
Enter Gamble, who recalls Berlanti presenting her with the book with the promise that she would “understand in the first few pages why it was so intense.”
“You’re placed right in this guy’s head and you’re entitled to all of his most private thoughts,” Gamble said. “There’s something so brilliant about hearing perfectly honest, uncensored thoughts. Most of us who are trying to be polite and acceptable and just making our way through the world, we think about all sorts of things.
Then came the critical task of finding an actor whose portrayal of Killer Joe could hold audience sympathy against all odds.
“We had auditioned a ton of really fantastic actors for this role” and had a short list of candidates to test, said Gamble, the show’s producer in charge. Then word came that Badgley might be interested.
“He’s come to the table before as a TV star, so the process is different for someone like him. It’s less about walking into a room full of people to audition, and more about sitting down with the creators and just having a conversation,” she said.
Badgley had doubts about portraying a character he found repulsive, Gamble said. But after a series of discussions, “we all realized that we were pretty much on the same page about why we wanted to explore Joe and why we wanted to do the show.”
“You,” with the comic relief offered by satire, isn’t the dystopian nightmare of Netflix hit “Squid Game.” But with its twisted protagonist and unfortunate endings, does it reflect the darker attitudes of younger generations?
It’s a question that Gamble, a millennial herself, approaches from a creative perspective.
“I have these two impulses as an artist and they are in direct conflict with each other,” she said. “The first is that I want to roll in romantic stories because I love them,” she said. “The other is that I have a very strong impulse to take a hard look … at all the ways our culture creates the conditions in which so much violence is done to women.”
Doing “You,” Gamble said, “was a process of proving to ourselves over and over again that they’re incredibly connected.”