From executive producers Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble, who also wrote the first episode, and based on Caroline Kepnes’ best-selling novel of the same name, the Lifetime drama series You gets deep inside the head of bookstore manager Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley, in an unsettling creepy performance that will stick with you), who crosses paths with an aspiring writer, named Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail), that he quickly finds himself obsessed with. Using the internet and social media to gather the most intimate details of her life as a way to get close to her, what seemingly starts as a crush quickly becomes something much more dangerous.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, showrunner Sera Gamble talked about why she wanted to tell this story, how she ended up teaming with Greg Berlanti, the evolution from Showtime to Lifetime, getting inside of the main character’s head, dropping F-bombs, whether audiences should root for Joe and Beck as a couple, and that they already have a good sense of what Season 2 will be.
Collider: The last time we spoke was for The Magicians, and we had quite an interesting conversation about the use of language in that series. There’s a little bit of that in this show, too. Has it been more or less difficult, with You?
SERA GAMBLE: You mean dropping F-bombs?
GAMBLE: It was actually a similar conversation because it sets a precedent for Lifetime, as well. They had been dropping sound on that word in the past and not using it. I had a conversation with our executives, and then our creative partners, and I was like, “Look, we just went through this on The Magicians, and I feel like it makes the show feel more adult and more real. It reflects the way that we talk. We’re ambitious with You. We want it to feel like we’re not pulling any punches. So can we have some ‘fucks’ please?”
How did they react to that?
GAMBLE: I don’t know if they were necessarily prepared for how passionate I am about language, and I am passionate about it. We talked about the specifics of how much they could do while being respectful of the existing structures that they have, and the guidelines and regulations. I try not to get too granular about it, but I do respect that they have a process they have to go through. I don’t need a ton of “fucks,” but I need a few “fucks.” They gave them to me, and I’m very, very grateful.
Did you have to fight for each one?
GAMBLE: No. It was just a protracted, lively conversation. But everybody has been incredibly supportive of the show, and very respectful of the crazy shit that writers seem to take very seriously. You want to push yourself to really be hard on your writing, so we’re not throwing that word in, instead of doing the work of making sure it’s a good scene, but having it in your pocket for emergencies is good.
It seems like there are situations where it would sound really funny if you tried to use that word.
GAMBLE: When you’re making a show that has sex, adult situations, and really brutal violence, in moments, it becomes very apparent to you that the standards that we hold violence to are shockingly different in our culture. We’re much more comfortable seeing a lot of blood than we are hearing certain words come out of people’s mouths, or seeing people in certain sexual situations, or even seeing too much of their bodies. Over the years, the more that I’ve done this, the more that I question why those differences exist, and it makes me uncomfortable to think that we are so immune to violence that it doesn’t affect us the same way, so we tolerate a much higher level without thinking that it’s extreme. So, in general, when I approach something like this, I’m like, “How can I be sure the audience is awake and conscious of what we’re doing?” It’s all in service to that.
It must be really cool to be working on a TV series that was a straight-to-series order, and you’ve already been picked up for Season 2.
GAMBLE: It’s pretty rarefied. I’m very excited. I’m especially grateful because Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter really are as fantastic to work for and with as they seem. They’re so supportive of their showrunners and of their writing teams. I am grateful, every day, that I get to work with such incredible people. And that’s with both shows. Maybe I did something good, in a past life.
How did you end up teaming up with them? Had you been talking before this about trying to do something together?
GAMBLE: Yeah. I’ve known Greg for a few years. Coming off of Supernatural, I had a script deal at Warner Brothers, and they [team up] writers with their producers, so I sat down with him and we clicked right away. I wrote a pilot that he was going to produce, and it didn’t get picked up, but we stayed on each other’s radar. When he called me with this, it was like, “Good! Finally! Let’s do it!” I was especially excited when he said that he wanted to co-write it because he has so many projects that he can’t write all of them. But he cared about this one, and really wanted to get in there and get his hands dirty, as it were. I was excited to be writing partners with him, on this one. He’s just in the right job, and because of that, if he feels stress for having so many projects, at the same time, it certainly doesn’t show and is not felt by the people who are working with him.
This show was originally developed for Showtime, right?
Has it evolved quite a bit since then, or do you feel like you’re making the show that you always wanted to make?
GAMBLE: It’s not terribly different. We wrote a draft for them, and it just became clear that we didn’t have the exact same vision for the direction of the show, but that happens frequently. They were very friendly about it and very supportive. And writing this for Lifetime has not been terribly different. I think that the nature of that network is such that their executives are more likely to ask questions about female characters, and they’re more likely to ask for more from the secondary female characters, but I love notes like that. I really love it when the note asks me to go deeper and to get a little ballsier, if you will. I like to be pushed and asked questions. And the questions that Lifetime was asking were really interesting.