‘You’ is full of L.A. stereotypes. The creators explain why
Netflix’s soapy thriller “You” undergoes a major change in its second season, as romantic obsessive Joe Goldberg flees his murderous past to hide in the one city a confirmed New Yorker would never choose: Los Angeles. And right from the beginning, the show packs in the local clichés, from aspiring Instagram influencers live-streaming on the streets to talk of blood cleanses and macrobiotic sea vegetables.
But “You” Executive Producer Sera Gamble wants to make it clear that she loves this city, and rolls her eyes when people trash talk it. “I feel like there’s a certain L.A. that gets portrayed in TV and film most of the time, and we certainly start the season from the perspective of someone who’s looking at it that way,” she said.
But while the show leans into those tropes initially, Gamble added, “as the season goes on, we start to peel back the layers and show you the stuff that’s really great here as well.”
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Series star Penn Badgley acknowledged that “You” does push into the realm of satire this season, but “that’s satire — it’s always based on some kind of truth.” And, he added, “L.A. is full of a lot of different kinds of people and it means a lot of different things. It’s more than just Hollywood. I mean, there are elements that are painfully superficial, of course. But every city has its shadows.”
The inspiration for moving “You” to Los Angeles came from the second novel in the “You” book series, written by Caroline Kepnes — whose own move from New York to Franklin Village reflects Joe’s journey.
“When you’re reading [‘Hidden Bodies’], you’ll know that Caroline was really sitting at Birds writing it. You feel like you’re on that one block that’s directly across the Scientology Center,” Gamble said.
Kepnes confirmed that Birds, a Hollywood bar/restaurant that’s been open since 1994, was a frequent writing location, as well as other establishments in the area, where she still lives. “Sometimes I will get in my car and drive to other places, but I love this neighborhood so much,” she said.
The season largely takes place in neighborhoods such as Silver Lake, which Gamble felt was important because “if you want to capture the real L.A., especially the L.A. where twenty-somethings are hanging out, you have to go east.”
Gamble knew this from her own life. She laughed about shooting in one specific location because “I have so many exes in Silver Lake that every time we were shooting on that street, I was just like, ‘God, I’m going to run into somebody I don’t want to see.’ I really did spend my twenties there.”
Badgley currently lives in New York, but spent his teenage years in Los Angeles as a young actor, a time he did not enjoy — though returning to the city to shoot Season 2 of “You” was a lot more pleasant. “I mean, it’s a beautiful city, and I was exploring places that I’d never really been before, even when I spent eight years there,” he said. “Like, I never even knew about Altadena. And I spent so much time in it this summer.”
Introduced this season as Los Angeles native Love, the new focus for Joe’s obsessive affections, “You” co-star Victoria Pedretti came to production as an East Coast outsider, which meant confronting her own expectations of the city, which were largely rooted in how she felt about the entertainment industry. “I saw L.A. as superficial,” she said. “But Los Angeles is a lot bigger, and encompasses a lot more, than just Hollywood.”
Some of the non-Hollywood aspects still struck her as ridiculous, though. Midway through the season, Love and Joe attend a “wellness weekend” hosted by Love’s parents, which Pedretti found to be “really bizarre”: While the show might be fiction, “we were told that these things actually happen, that a lot of the design was based on actual festivals that incredibly wealthy people put on for their friends.”
From her perspective, such events are “predominantly white people co-opting other people’s wellness traditions, [which] were once considered extremely taboo or witchy or … uncivilized, and appropriating them in this way that glamorizes these things. It’s like the epitome of when cultural appropriation becomes really dangerous and offensive.”
There was also, she added, “an actual wolf” on set.
On the other hand, her character’s love of Los Angeles culture is focused on the food scene, specifically the farm-to-table movement. “She’s just really into good flavor, which is so emblematic of what I know about the Los Angeles culinary scene,” Pedretti said.
It’s Love’s passion for food that exposes Joe to parts of the city beyond the stereotypes, which were some of Pedretti’s favorite moments of the season. “When they’re sitting near the observatory in the park, looking over the city at night — it’s pretty dreamy. And going to the taco truck was great,” she said.
While Joe’s eyes are slowly opened to aspects of Los Angeles beyond the superficial, he doesn’t escape certain cultural touchstones — one such moment involves the world of improv comedy, as Joe has to make someone believe that he understands terms such as “object work.” Badgley might be an experienced actor, but he said playing that scene felt like “I was speaking another language.”
Gamble said that producer Neil Reynolds, who wrote that episode, drew on his own previous life as an improviser to sell the idea. “To me, there is no substitute for specificity. That’s what brings something to life and makes it real,” she said.
That scene also brought out a key aspect of L.A. culture, which Badgley described as “the desperation of everybody trying to make it in Hollywood. ... Nothing that you see that is made in TV and movies is real. So, more than most places, you just find an entire culture oriented around that.”
By contrast, Kepnes said that she loves the bravery of those who come to Hollywood to pursue their dreams. “I feel that in the show they captured that openness that gets taken for granted,” she said. “It’s not easy to chase your dreams and it’s not silly to chase them. It takes guts.”
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That spirit of openness is something “You” highlights throughout the season — an aspect of Los Angeles that leads Joe, new to the city, not only to make new friendships relatively quickly, but also to confront some of his own deeply rooted issues via unconventional means.
Trying new things and embracing new people is something Gamble sees as “secretly laudable.” After all, while the show has fun with L.A. tropes, it doesn’t fault people for doing what helps them get through the day — even if that means, as Gamble said, “you end up spending a certain amount of time standing on one leg under the full moon holding a crystal to your forehead.”
In the end, Gamble felt that the show’s depiction of Los Angeles wouldn’t dissuade anyone from wanting to come here: “Because the weather is great. It looks gorgeous on the show, and the tacos are amazing. Why wouldn’t you want to visit L.A.?”
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