December 11, 2019

Obsessive Love Turns Deadly in ‘You’

Stalking takes on a whole other dimension in “You,” a Lifetime series about romantic obsession in the internet age. Based on the best-selling novel by Caroline Kepnes, it stars Penn Badgley from “Gossip Girl” as Joe Goldberg, who seems like a nice Jewish boy but is actually a dangerous psychopath. A bright, charming bookstore manager in New York, Goldberg meets his dream girl, Beck (Elizabeth Lail), stalks her via social media, insinuates himself into her life and proceeds to eliminate anything — and anyone­­ — who stands in his way.

“This is like a romantic comedy as a horror movie,” said Sera Gamble, who co-created and executive produces the series with Greg Berlanti. “It says that privacy has pretty much gone out the window and that can be a pretty scary thing,”

Adapting Kepnes’ novel proved challenging for Gamble, who wrote several episodes including the pilot and worked on all 10. “The book is incredibly intimate in that you’re inside [Joe’s] interior monologue the whole time,” she said. “I love reading novels that are a deep dive into a character that way, and it was important to us to keep that voiceover and let you hear the voice inside his head but also to expand the world of the show.”

That expansion included adding characters and a storyline that is not in the novel. In the first episode, viewers meet Paco, a young boy in Joe’s apartment building. “You wonder how a guy like Joe became a guy like Joe,” Gamble said. “Seeing the soft spot he has for this kid and the way he talks about the
world to Paco is a great way to illuminate what he believes.”

Initially, the viewer sees Beck through Joe’s point of view, but after a couple of episodes the shows shifts more and more to Beck’s point of view. “It was really important to start by seeing her as Joe sees her, but as time goes on, we start to see her as she is, so we can compare and contrast some of the conclusions that he’s drawn,” Gamble said. “They’re not always correct.”

A former actress, Gamble discovered her talent for writing when she began developing her own material to perform. She wrote a blog with her friend Simon Glickman called “Very Hot Jews,” collaborated with writer Raelle Tucker on screenplays, and was a finalist in the competition series “Project Greenlight” in 2003. Her screenplay was not produced, “but it was a conversation starter,” that got her representation and led to other work. She spent seven years as a writer on the TV show “Supernatural,” followed by stints on “Aquarius” and “The Magicians.”

The daughter of doctors — immigrants who fled anti-Semitism in Poland — Gamble grew up in a home that was “very education-focused, surrounded by books.” She attended a Jewish day school, learned Hebrew and had a bat mitzvah. “It was important to [my parents] that I have an education and an understanding of my heritage,” she said.

“I feel a really strong cultural Jewish identity,” she continued. “At a moment where we’re being reminded that history repeats itself, I think it’s important to understand where you came from and be affected by the world around you. Having a cultural Jewish identity helps me empathize with people from other cultures.”

Gamble is engaged to a “lapsed Catholic” who is a voiceover director. “He’s very respectful, curious, interested and understanding about Judaism,” she said.

“You” has been picked up for a second season, which will be set in Los Angeles. “Over time, we move from city to city and find different lenses through which to explore love and obsession,” Gamble said. Unsurprisingly, not all the cast members will make the trip west. “Without spoiling too much,” she said, “I can tell you that not every character you’ve seen is alive by the end of the season.”

“You” premieres at 10 p.m. Sept. 9 on  Lifetime.