You crosses the pond… and starts to sink
In season four, the Netflix hit has lost what made it compelling
Kia ora and welcome back to Rec Room, The Spinoff’s pop culture and entertainment newsletter. This is my last edition of Rec Room, as I’m bidding farewell to the good ship Spinny – my work home for the last seven years – and preparing to head overseas for a while. I’m leaving you in the extremely capable hands of Chris Schulz, who’ll be donning the captain’s hat from next week. So long, and thanks for watching with me.
- Catherine McGregor
You crosses the pond… and starts to sink
Penn Badgley as Joe and Lukas Gage as Adam in You (Photo: Netflix)
There’s a secret to watching You, the terribly addictive / addictively terrible Netflix show that takes the viewer inside the mind of a charming serial killer. Go in expecting a quality thriller and you’ll be disappointed – the plot holes are ocean-sized, the characters are wafer-thin, and little things like motivation and consequences are regularly hand-waved off in favour of yet another strangulation or stabbing.
But watch You as a comedy and it makes a lot more sense. Based on a novel by US author Caroline Kepnes, the TV series – originally a little-seen dud until saved by Netflix, where it became a ratings juggernaut – treats killing with such flippancy that it’s hard to take seriously at all. This silliness comes to a head in series three, when (huge spoiler alert) our anti-hero Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) finds himself going toe-to-toe with his secretly psychotic wife Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti). Double the murders, double the fun.
Rich and awful: Tilly Keeper as Phoebe and Charlotte Ritchie as Kate in You (Photo: Netflix)
You boasts a few other pleasures. The clash between Joe’s genial demeanour and his smug, sardonic inner monologue – cut together by an editor with apparently excellent comic timing – is the source of many of the show’s best laughs. Now he’s made the move from California to London, hiding his real identity behind the guise of a tweedy university professor, his fish-out-of-water diffidence makes him all the more charming to his new friends. If only they knew what he was really thinking while making polite small talk at Sundry House, the private members club owned by fellow American exile Adam (Lukas Gage, of White Lotus season one fame).
Joe, you see, has a new set of friends to go with his new persona. Don’t worry, they’re just as rich and obnoxious as everyone he’s met since socialite Peach Salinger (yes, a relation – why do you ask?) back in season one. There’s a big problem with this season’s crowd, though: they’re only rich and obnoxious, and the show is all the poorer for it.
When Joe was a young bookseller in New York at the start of this story, he fell in with a bunch of trust fund babies straight out of Gossip Girl, the series that shot Badgley to fame as ‘lonely boy’ Dan Humphreys. In season two Joe escaped to LA, where his circle was green-juice drinking hipsters; when he moved to the suburbs in season three, they were bored mothers and philandering dads.
In London in season four, they’re just dumb, obscenely rich, cartoonishly evil jerks. These people make jokes about “shooting peasants” and complain about criminal “scum” and how the wealthy are “the real victims” in society. When the so-called Eat the Rich Killer starts knocking them off one by one, they’re so self-involved they barely seem to care that their friends are regularly turning up dead. The problem may be that You’s American writers don’t know enough about British high society to construct semi-rounded characters, or perhaps they’ve simply given up on the social satire that made earlier seasons so sharply funny. Either way, it’s a loss.
Use it Joe, you know you want to (Photo: Netflix)
And then there’s Joe himself. The big twist this season is that the stalker has become the stalkee, with Joe’s ever-changing “you” now an anonymous murderer taunting him by text. It’s an interesting change-up to a story line that was becoming well worn, but it fundamentally alters the character of Joe – and makes him far less interesting in the process. The genius of You, such as it was, lay in its dissection of male romantic entitlement, taking the viewer inside the mind of an obsessive, sociopathic killer who believes himself to be a “nice guy”. He really had to murder all those people – he was doing it for You.
But this season Joe’s recast as the hero of the piece, and something vital in the character has disappeared. He’s lucid, relatively normal; his obsession is finding a crazed killer who’s threatening him, rather than killing in the service of his own romantic obsessions. He’s growing closer to Kate (Charlotte Ritchie), but hasn’t once been tempted to murder on her behalf. What a crying shame. Is there any point to You, the show about a serial killer, if he never garottes anyone, not even once?
There’s still some fun to be had in You. The London locations are a nice change of scene, Joe’s new South Kensington flat is envy-inducing, and Badgley’s narration remains a darkly comic joy. But an actual nice-guy protagonist isn’t what we want from this reliably bonkers show. Hey, You: let Joe be Joe. (Netflix) / Catherine McGregor
Magic Mike’s Last Dance is right for all the wrong reasons
Salma Hayek as Maxandra and Channing Tatum as Mike in Magic Mike’s Last Dance (Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)
Emily Writes rated Magic Mike’s Last Dance “a seven [out of five] on the horny scale. We had to remake the horny scale and now it goes up to seven.” Dangerous thing to do but I’m doing it: Emily, my good friend and noted authority on stripper movies and/or Channing Tatum-with-his-shirt-off, is dead wrong about Magic Mike’s Last Dance. It’s a really excellent movie, just not for the reasons she cites. In fact, what she calls its strengths are in fact its near-fatal flaws, or at the very least mask its most puzzling decisions.
The presumably final film in the brilliant and now super bizarre Magic Mike trilogy finds Mike tending bar at a rich lady’s party after the failure of his furniture business due to Covid (incidentally, false premise: furniture retail boomed during the lockdowns). His cheekbones are still all the way up, but his mood is down. That is until five minutes into the film, when he meets new divorcée Salma Hayek and gives her an indescribably good and horny all-night lapdance. She understandably drags him to London and makes him the director of a fusty old stage show that he turns into a strip show. Much, much later there is another wildly horny stripper dance on a stage, in the rain.
I think Emily must have blacked out (fair) in between those two dances, because there is about 90 minutes of amazingly bad dialogue in between, with almost no stripping, as MMLD builds a new movie out of PG-Showgirls dialogue and a plot fusion of Pretty Woman and Sing. It’s easily Steven Soderburgh’s stupidest film, and maybe his funniest. But aside from those two magnificent bookending stripping scenes, in my opinion there is altogether not enough stripping. (In cinemas) / Duncan Greive
TV rec: Not Dead Yet
Have you been missing Gina Rodriguez, the effervescent star of Jane the Virgin? Well, miss her no longer because she’s back on our screens in Not Dead Yet, a delightfully low stakes workplace comedy with an odd twist. Rodriguez plays a messy newspaper reporter who left her last job 10 years ago and has to work from the ground up again, this time as an obituary writer. The twist? She starts to encounter the ghosts of the people whose obits she’s writing, and takes advice from them. So it’s a bit Ugly Betty, a bit Joan of Arcadia, but ultimately a chance to watch Rodriguez be as radiant as we know she can be. (Disney+) Sam Brooks
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That’s it for Rec Room for this week. If you liked what you read, why not share Rec Room with your friends and whānau.