‘You’ Will Bring Out Your Hate-Love Affair with Los Angeles
Note: Only minor spoilers ahead.
In the new season of You, Joe—the bookish (and murderous) antihero, played by Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgley—decamps to Los Angeles and assumes a new identity as “Will,” and in the process, much fun is made of the city. Usually send-ups of LA are pretty vapid, but this one is pretty spot-on—one episode even includes a checklist of seven things you need to see before you can be considered a real Angeleno. As a Los Angeles transplant myself, I have a few things to say about the list and about the show’s depiction of the City of Angels itself (beyond the fact that it deserves props for never calling LA the City of Angels, because real people don’t say that...and I vow never to say it again).
The story arc of the series mimics the experience of anyone moving to LA: dismissive contempt at first, then gradual acceptance as a slow and steady drip, drip, drip of pleasurable elements works its magic into your life. The apt description makes sense when you consider that showrunner Sera Gamble lives in LA and is an unabashed East Side booster (that’s the nabe where the drama is set), and author Caroline Kepnes (she wrote Hidden Bodies, the thriller that You’s second season riffs on) penned a lot of the story while sitting outside at a café in Franklin Village, where she still lives. Long story short: This is all of our stories about Los Angeles, getting to know it and basically needing to make fun of it because we know it’s the best ever.
1. The Seven Totems of Los Angeles Are Delightfully Apt
In episode 6, Will is told that there are Seven Totems of Los Angeles, a clever conceit whereby someone in the writers’ room of You came up with a bunch of clichés of contemporary L.A., all wrapped in a Raymond Chandler–inspired thriller episode. This is quality writing, folks. (Note to millennial readers: The italics here are for emphasis, not irony.) I’ll name them here: a Rollerblader in booty shorts, a “ghetto bird” (police helicopter), two starlets wearing the same dress, a pack of coyotes, a dog in a stroller, an off-brand superhero (but not in front of Grauman’s, says Will’s love interest, Love, “’cause that’s too easy,” and “a palm tree on fire…especially in the rain.” As someone who has seen five of the seven, I’ve got to say these are sufficiently weird and so L.A. (I’m still on the lookout for a twinning starlet situation and a burning palm.)
2. The Lionization of L.A. Writers Is Real
Near the beginning of Season 2, Will’s new Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Love (played with just the right balance of cute and cloying by Victoria Pedretti) is burbling on about how the Brooklyn transplant is a snob. Even though Will works in a bookstore, she womansplains that he needs to really understand Los Angeles by reading its literature. “Haven’t you ever fallen in love reading Joan Didion or Raymond Chandler or Francesca Lia Block?” she asks, as she looks at his blank face accusingly. “You’ve never read Joan Fucking Didion?!”
As a recovering MPDG myself, I felt incredibly seen by the show at that moment. We Angelenos get it: We are the underdogs, the fans of the evil that lurks beneath the surface (a hardcover copy of Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely is shown in a later episode, along with recommendations of both the Robert Mitchum and “sex on legs” Elliott Gould film adaptations). A recent Brooklyn-to-Hollywood émigré tells me he’s wanted to live in L.A. since reading Block’s magical realist Weetzie Bat as a young man; and in my not-so-distant past, I would gauge the state of my mental health by how frequently I picked up Didion’s Play It as It Lays in a season. (Back to the show--it’s not a good omen when both Will and Love are seen poring over their own copies.)
3. Outdoor Ceremonies Are Status
Weddings and funerals happen all the time during this season of You, and since it’s L.A., they are all happening outdoors. And unlike in most of the civilized world, a most uncivilized attempt at celebrity-spotting occurs at both. I mean, celebrities have to celebrate unions and mourn losses too, amiright? But the thing is that in Los Angeles there’s a disconnect between the values we were given growing up outside this kooky town and what we find here (in other words, weddings are supposed to be traditional affairs, not teepee-adjacent recommitment ceremony/wellness weekends, like the one hosted by Love’s parents). So when Will points out a B-list actress’s final resting place in an attempt to cheer up Love at a funeral, he’s being, well, totally L.A. Seriously. When we buried a family member at Hollywood Forever, where the funeral is set in You, rocker Dee Dee Ramone’s graveside statue and Douglas Fairbanks’s sepulcher were semiprivate places nearby to have a moment.
4. Doughnuts Are Worth the Drive
They are a big, big deal here. (It’s one of the great Hollywood mysteries: How can a land peopled with body-obsessed exhibitionists and a cardio workout in every strip mall support such high-calorie treats?) When foodie Love suggests driving 25 miles to Glendora to get an especially delicious strawberry and cream, that’s not out of the question, even though L.A. residents are notoriously neighborhood-centric to avoid traffic. It’s a safe bet that the strawberry doughnut she’s after comes from the Donut Man—and I’ll split the gas if someone else wants to drive?
5. We’re Spending All the Money on Rent
Will settles in Franklin Village, aka Los Feliz, when he moves to L.A., in one of the stylish, modern-style apartment buildings filled with the ghosts of Hollywood hopefuls past. Thing is, a one-bedroom in one of those apartments goes for around $2,000 per month, which would be an estimated 60 percent of what Will is pulling in at the Erewhon-analog food market where he creeps works. (We gave him a $20 hourly wage, because of his special talents with the Dostoyevsky.) He has no car, which saves on insurance and gas, but TBH, we’re wondering why his constant internal monologue about romance doesn’t include a few worries about his finances too.
6. This is a Town All About Reinvention
So…come one, come all to L.A.: There is endless traffic, there are crazy people, but there are also all the kooky delights. After bingeing through Season 2, I’m thinking we should all be like Will and make a fresh start. (Let’s just forget that F. Scott Fitzgerald said “There are no second acts in American life” before he drank himself to death here.) 2020 is a new decade, and beyond that, look at how well things worked out for our new hero.