Storytelling with Sera Gamble, Part Two: ‘You’ on Lifetime
Where is the line between cute and creepy? Interested and in too deep? That is what Lifetime’s newest show, You, intends to find out.
Set in New York City, You is a love story gone wrong. In Part Two of our three-part interview series, Executive Producer Sera Gamble sits down with Nerds and Beyond to share more about the romantic thriller. Sera, along with director/producer Greg Berlanti, are the creators and showrunners of You, which has already been picked up for a second season before even premiering.
To find out more about Sera, check out Part One here, and without further ado, here is Storytelling with Sera Gamble, Part Two.
Nerds and Beyond: What exactly is You, and how you got involved with the project?
Sera Gamble: “It’s a love story,” she said dryly. (laughs) The very shortest way to describe it is it’s a love story about a stalker. Really, it’s a story of a very thoughtful bookstore owner named Joe Goldberg who is extremely observant. He meets a young woman named Beck, played by Elizabeth Leil, whom he is interested in, and he starts by doing the stuff we all do, due diligence of googling and things that we find completely normal in our hyper connected culture today. But, he takes things a lot further. And it’s all told from his point of view, at first, which gives the story a whole new perspective.
As for how I got involved, I was really lucky that Greg Berlanti sent me the book. He had just read it, he called me and said “I’m reading this book, it feels addictive in that way of binging a TV show, read it and if you see the same thing in it that I do let’s chat about it.” Within a few pages I completely understood why he was so excited about it. It’s so timely, it’s only become more timely in the last year. We decided to write it together and it’s an absolute pleasure to write with Greg. He’s someone who currently is really well known for producing a large amount of shows at the same time, but I think first and foremost he’s just a terrific writer. I felt very fortunate that I got to write with him.
N&B: So, it’s told from the point of view of the guy who maybe isn’t the good guy, then. But he sees himself as the good guy?
SG: What was immediately interesting to me about the character of Joe Goldberg is that when he crosses the line, when he invades her privacy, when he behaves in a stalking way, when he commits acts of violence, which, you know, he might do once or twice this season, none of this is coming from a place of relishing being some sort of bad person. He has a strong code about love and it’s not an alien code. It’s a code that we should all recognize from the great romances we grew up loving. Certainly I grew up loving. You know, those romantic comedies where a man chases a woman through an airport to declare his love, or sabotages her entire life to declare his love, or stands outside her window at night with a boombox, whatever it is… watches her sleep like vampires do, right? In watching that stuff, I’m always really aware that if you change the music to creepy music, we’re watching a horror movie where a guy is stalking a girl, and yet I’m so taken with it. Joe has internalized these messages about how a good man should be in a relationship and he takes them to absolutely the wrong conclusions. So that’s the “fun” in the show.
He sees himself as sort of a bit of a white knight on a horse. I mean really he has a lot of great qualities, he certainly is not your standard issue Hollywood psychopath. He has a tender beating heart in there, but the lines that he will cross for love, the lines that he will cross for the woman that he cares about, are deeply troubling. It is entertaining but it’s also something that becomes a litmus test. You get the opportunity to really look at the stuff we just accept in storytelling about men and women. So while the show is really fun and subversive, and I do hope people watch it and really enjoy it, I think it’s also kind of a fun way to hold a mirror up to our current culture and say, “These things that we’re talking about that have been brought to light lately are dangerous for women and cause women so much trouble in our lives.” And these rules that we’re imparting to women in our culture, they’re also troubling for men. The same thing that created #MeToo is really damaging to men as well.
N&B: You mentioned watching old romances and how they’re not as romantic as you remembered them. Why do you think it’s important in 2018 to tell this story and what impact do you think You could have?
SG: It’s always been important to tell this story. I remember being in maybe seventh or eighth grade, and my best friend’s mom took us to a revival theater to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca. And I remember being so taken with Lawrence Olivier’s character, so romantic and old fashioned. But the way he treats the woman he’s interested in in that story is repulsive! (laughs) I think there are things that we romanticize about the relationships between men and women in particular, about “heterosexual mating rituals,” If we’re gonna say it in a scientific way, that are deeply troubling. I have always wanted to explore that because I consider myself to be a really independent progressive feminist person, and I have never defined myself based on my relationships with men. But when I watch those movies, when I hear those classic love songs, it instills that same kind of longing in me. And that both things are true at the same time for me that I just don’t believe that women or men should be defined by each other and that also I have internalized all this stuff, is fascinating. And that’s what we’re pulling apart in the show to put under a microscope.
N&B: You have worked on a few projects that were originally books, such as The Magicians and now You. Can you talk a bit about that process of adapting a book to television, and how do you decide what to change, how that adaptation comes to be?
SG: I’ve been really fortunate in that I’ve gotten to work very closely with Lev Grossman who wrote The Magicians novels as well as Caroline Kepnes who wrote the so far two books in the You series. It always starts with a conversation with the author, first and foremost in the process with Jon (McNamara) on The Magicians and with Greg Berlanti on You. We want to bombard the author with questions such as why they wrote what they wrote, what they meant by anything that confuses us or intrigues us and what is the beating heart of the story for them. If I have the opportunity to hit up the author for clues, I always take up that opportunity.
Another thing that I’ve learned really well over the last couple years is that TV and books are very very different media. You can spend hundreds and hundreds of pages just sitting at a breakfast table with a bowl of Cheerios and your protagonist in a novel because you’re deep inside their head, but you can’t really spend episodes and episodes and episodes of TV in a bowl of Cheerios. (laughs) On TV, if you want to illuminate how a character is feeling, the strongest tool you usually have is to put another character in the scene and see how they bounce off one another. Adjustments always have to be made so that you can tell the story. On The Magicians we deviated and we remixed the plots a lot. That’s just what the show required. And I think people who are fans of Caroline’s books will see an awful lot that they loved from the first book in season one, but also to make it a TV show we expanded the world quite a bit. There are characters that are being invented, there are storylines that are not in the book and characters don’t always meet the same fate as they did in the books, but I think that’s the most pointed I can be about that without giving away a spoiler.
N&B: You happen to have a cast with some backgrounds in related material, such as Penn Badgely who was on Gossip Girl and Shay Mitchell who was on Pretty Little Liars. How has it been working with the cast?
SG: They’re fantastic, as people already know because they’ve seen their other work. Everyone approached this material really thoughtfully and seriously and I’m just very excited for people to see Penn’s work and Shay’s work and John Stamos’s work, really everybody’s work in the show because they really went there. We had a lot of conversation about where these characters were coming from and when you’re working with an actor who is established and who is a star, you always hope you can provide them with material that represents an evolution for them. Everyone in this cast has evolved and those shows that we know them for were just their beginnings of long and interesting careers for them. Everyone’s hope is that this show allows you to enjoy them and see them in a new light. Seeing bits of their depth and bits of their thoughtfulness that are new to you.
N&B: Finally, What scene or aspect of the You are you particularly excited for people to see?
SG: I’m excited for people to see everyone’s performances. I think everyone did such fantastic work. As the season goes on, the show moves from being exclusively from the point of view of Penn’s character Joe Goldberg and into Beck’s point of view. It was important to us to start exclusively from his point of view because you want the experience of watching Beck from afar and not knowing anything that Joe doesn’t know. But it turns out he’s not a completely reliable narrator. He makes a lot of assumptions about why she’s behaving the way she is, and sometimes he’s not right. It was important to us to move it to her point of view and start to illuminate what’s going on with this young woman. So I’m especially excited to get into those later episodes where we pull back some more layers on Beck and you really get to get a sense of what makes her tick and what’s most important to her.
You premieres on Lifetime tonight, September 9, at 10/9c. Stay tuned for Part Three of Storytelling Sera Gamble where we spoil all things The Magicians season four, coming soon.
This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.