I’m a book snob. I’m not ever going to deny that. Ever. I’m the type of person who sees the trailer or hears the rumors for a project based on a book and then reads the book before the release. It’s my own personal race against the clock. Will I finish before this comes out? Let’s find out! On top of that, I’m most certainly that annoying person in your life who after the movie/tv show who whispers in your ear that “the book was better”… or even goes into detail about all the changes that were made and why they make me unhappy in my belly. Does that make me a monster? I suppose to some degree. Us book lovers believe ourselves to be a bit privileged when it comes to our properties being adapted and we are fully aware that all of you non-readers roll your eyes in physical anguish whenever the phrase “the book was better” is uttered. The thing is… we can’t help ourselves. It just happens. It’s no different from a vampire needing to drink blood or Tom Hardy using some strange, yet charming, accent when he acts. It’s going to happen folks. If you’re friends with a reader make your peace with it and move on.
There are those rare occasions (*cough* Lord of the Rings *cough*) where readers walk away with no problems or at least minor nitpicks. There’s always something. Don’t deny it, readers. There’s always a Tom Bombadil or missing scene that holds no specific importance to the plot but just moved you in the book. But it’s never enough to ruin the experience. Sure, it gives us the ability to “gripe” but the relish is gone. This isn’t picking apart a movie/show for betraying us and the novel, this is just us being readers who have this ridiculous notion that every page needs to be adapted. Every. Page. Who doesn’t want to sit through a five-hour movie experience? Could you imagine if live-action books were as long as the audio versions?! Some of those run forty hours! I’ve had a tough enough time finding three and a half hours to watch The Irishman. If that was the case we’d have a lot more readers and a lot fewer viewers. Who has the time?
Then there are the even rarer occasions when the property is so vastly, mind-boggling different from the events of the novel that you find yourself not even remotely caring. You can see that the DNA of the story is there but things are so crazy town banana pants and unique that it’s like falling in love with the universe all over again.
Which brings us to season two of You.
Normally, I would be screaming from the rooftops that this second season of You didn’t even try to adapt the novel but as I watched episode after episode, I found myself caring less and less. I was having a blast. Part of the fun of the second book of the You series (titled Hidden Bodies) is how over the top it is. The book is bonkers right from the start and there’s just no way that any of these scenarios would actually play out this way in real life. I don’t say that as a critique because I enjoyed the suspension of disbelief. That’s a gift to any reader, or viewer, allowing you to step out of reality and just get caught in the ride. Not everything has to fall in line with the norms of real life. It’s fiction after all and we read or watch, to escape. Sometimes it’s okay to just have fun with something no matter how dark, scary, off the wall, crazy it is. Sometimes it’s okay to believe that a cup full of urine, unfound for months, could be the final nail in a coffin to a serial killer. The story makes no apologies for the way it presents itself and that freedom makes for quite the experience.
In that regard season two of You really understands its source material as there are no apologies here. There’s the acknowledgment that this indeed is based on a novel as the characters, most of the setting and central problems are carried over but outside of that this second season wants you to know that things are going to be very, very different from the jump. At first, the experience is a bit jarring. That final scene from the opening episode leaves you with an immense sense of “WTF was that. That wasn’t in the book” that kind of carries for the next three or four episodes. My wife and I spent much of our time discussing the early parts of the season this way. “But that doesn’t happen like that.” “Wait, that’s not how I pictured so-and-so.” “Why does he keep hiding shit in shoeboxes in the wall?!” Then suddenly something just clicks like Joe discovering a hidden social media account. You just get it. I can’t tell you what scene or episode it happens in, it probably varies for most, but my viewing experience shifted from wondering when this was going to meet up with what happens in the book to not caring at all. I was having too much fun. As much fun as someone can have with a story about a serial killer/stalker, who has clear mommy issues, and miiiiiiight not fully comprehend what love is. Or maybe he does which makes the show even more unsettling. Things to think about.
What’s fun about this second season of You is how it feels like some kind of parallel universe to the book. The characters are all here but some of them are slightly off. Forty may not be exactly how he’s described in the novel but there is no denying that James Scully is Forty Quinn. In fact, he’s perfect. Delilah may not be the desperate train wreck she was in the book but Carmela Zumbado makes you care about the character in an unexpected way. The inclusion of Ellie as her sister adds a new dimension to the character and allows us to witness the series’ breakout Jenna Ortega slay whatever scene she’s in. Hidden Bodies bleeds through but You season two thrives on being a parallel universe. It gives the show freedom you wouldn’t expect that only enhances the viewing experience as opposed to distracting from it.
At its core though, this story is about Joe and Love and it’s these two characters that drive the story. Penn Badgley is Joe Goldberg through in through. He’s the exact voice I heard when I read the novels and I refuse to think of anyone else in the part. He’s got this creepy charm about him that makes me want to go out for a drink with him buuuut not introduce him to my wife. The chemistry that he has with Victoria Pedretti’s Love is possibly the strongest argument that can be made why the changes from book to screen work. They are the driving force, much like the book, and suddenly any changes don’t seem to matter despite it being quite apparent early on that she is not the same Love from Hidden Bodies. But that’s okay. The performance is vulnerable and sweet and I found myself rooting for these two crazy kids to get together despite the fact that Joe is an established lunatic/killer. It’s like knowing all the food porn scenes in Hannibal are made out of people but not caring because it looks delicious. Sometimes you just root for love, I suppose. Or maybe it’s the fact that Pedretti is in yet another role where her husband dies tragically and I just want her to settle down. I’m not here to be judged.
Season two of You doesn’t allow itself to be crushed under the weight of its source material. It’s different but it uses Hidden Bodies more as a guideline for the story structure assuring us that we’re going to get there but it’s not going to be what you expected and have fun with it. Which probably explains why I spent the last two episodes hyperventilating into my sweatshirt. I had zero clue how this thing was going to end up and it was refreshing to the point where it was borderline maddening. But it was never not fun. It was unlike any other book to screen adaptation experience I’ve ever had. There was no burning a small child to death Game of Thrones style. There was no making Tyresse a non-character in The Walking Dead because of Daryl Dixon’s existence. There was the same dark humor, meta-commentary, and vivid characters that I had read in the book and I walked away with two-story avenues. I can have the bonkers over the top nature of Caroline Kepnes’s novels and I can have the bonkers over the top nature of the Netflix series. It’s an embarrassment of riches really.
When the series ended, my wife and I turned to each other and instead of saying “the book was better”, I looked her in the eyes and said, “that was awesome!” And I meant it. You frees the reader from the shackles of being held hostage to the novel while somehow celebrating the novel itself. It’s confounding and as a book snob, it leaves me a bit unsettled. As a story junkie though? It’s quite a gift and I’m left anxiously awaiting both book three and season three and considering the subject matter, I wonder what that means about me?