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‘You’ Season 2’s Greatest Strength Is Dragging Los Angeles

The travails of Penn Badgley’s stalker haven’t changed much, but his setting has, giving the show an opportunity to take aim at wellness weirdos, aspiring screenwriters, and people who shop at Erewhon

Netflix/Ringer illustration

Not much has changed in the second season of You, the Lifetime thriller turned Exhibit A of the Netflix bump. Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) is still a creepy sociopath who can’t help himself from objectifying, obsessing over, and flat-out stalking beautiful women. The beautiful woman in question is still kind of a jerk herself, fueling both You’s indictment of Joe and its indiscriminate contempt for yuppie scum. There’s still a vulnerable teenager Joe feels the need to protect because they remind him of his abused, traumatized younger self. And, oh yeah, Joe still keeps a human-size cage on hand in case anyone needs imprisoning.

What has changed, however, is You’s setting. The first season tackled the social mores of white, well-off, 20-something New York: MFA programs; Brown reunions over brunch; an heiress named “Peach Salinger.” With his artfully rumpled button-downs and self-congratulatory obsession with books, Joe could hide in plain sight; part of the terror, and the joke, was that he’s an only slightly more psychotic version of a guy you’d swipe right for on Hinge. After committing a few murders and running afoul of an ex, however, Joe does what millions of his demographic peers have done before and will since: heads west.

The Los Angeles of You’s second season is a very particular slice of a sprawling, diverse metropolis that can’t be reduced to a single stereotype. Nevertheless, You bears down on the parts a Hollywood writers’ room knows best—which also happen to be the parts where someone like Joe and the fake-deep women he’s drawn to would spend their time. “If you want to capture the real L.A., especially the L.A. where 20-somethings are hanging out, you have to go east,” cocreator Sera Gamble told the L.A. Times. “East side” is a contested term when it comes to L.A. geography, but for You’s purposes that means Los Feliz, Silver Lake, and other environs chock-full of 2010s clichés, also seen in movies like Ingrid Goes West and shows like You’re the Worst.

I happen to be a writer in my 20s living in Silver Lake; before that, I was in Los Feliz, the neighborhood where Joe conveniently finds a furnished apartment shortly after touching down. I am exactly who You is taking satirical aim at this season, and reader: I feel thoroughly dragged. On the other hand, not everyone has firsthand experience with the 5 square miles this show has opted to make its punching bag. For those viewers’ convenience, I’ve assembled a list of You’s most effective L.A. burns.

Anavrin/Erewhon

Joe is a bookseller, a skill he finds isn’t in much demand around sunny L.A. (More on that later.) Instead, he finds a job moving merchandise at a store called Anavrin, an organic market cum lifestyle brand hawking Moon Juice, cassava chips, and, yes, a few books to flatter customers’ egos. They may not be picking up some Kerouac along with their organic kale, but they’re the kind of people who could!

“Anavrin” is “Nirvana” backward, making it a hilariously transparent shot at Erewhon, the mini-chain of L.A. supermarkets that makes Whole Foods look like Kroger. Erewhon is where you go for all things keto, macrobiotic, and Whole30-friendly; it’s also a reliable place to spot sweatpants-clad celebrities and off-duty influencers, particularly the location by Hollywood-adjacent luxury mall the Grove. It’s arguably beyond parody, but You certainly does its damnedest!

There is an Erewhon opening in my neighborhood next year. I am unironically excited.

Skylight Books

Joe may not get a job there, but he does pay a visit to Skylight, the indie book purveyor of choice for the Silver Lake set. (Eve Babitz is a permanent fixture on their bestsellers shelf.) Minor quibble: This is a real missed opportunity for Joe to complain about the lackluster state of L.A.’s bookstore scene! The Last Bookstore is basically an Instagram backdrop that’s impossible to navigate; Skylight is cute but way too small for the population it’s serving; there’s basically nothing between Larchmont and West Hollywood, home of Book Soup. You is otherwise a great outlet for petty civic grievances (Café Gratitude is basically prison food) less in line with Joe’s personal brand, so why not this one?

Quoting Jonathan Gold

After things with Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail) ended rather murderously, Joe sets his sights on Love—Love!!!!—Quinn (Victoria Pedretti), a chef whose parents co-own Anavrin. For their first date, Love takes Joe on a food tour of the city, citing its dearly departed patron saint Jonathan Gold while she does so. Before he died in 2018, the Pulitzer-winning critic passionately advocated for Los Angeles as a great civic body whose restaurants were a reflection of its vast, chaotic, multi-ethnic spirit. Love somewhat undercuts this point by taking Joe to a pretty basic-looking food truck lot that seems somewhat out of place in the Gold canon. Maybe Mariscos Jalisco was too far of a drive?

Nonetheless, You is dead-on in how Gold’s word became law to millions of Angelenos who piggybacked off of his encyclopedic knowledge to seem in-the-know about where to eat. His yearly 101 list, which the Times has since revived, was a de facto bible; institutions he helped put on the map, like Hollywood Thai restaurant Jitlada, continue to thrive. For a more fitting tribute, check out the documentary about his life’s work. Elsewhere on Netflix, Taco Chronicles gives a boost to Sonoratown and Carnitas El Momo, two L.A. staples that may not be on Love’s radar, but certainly should be!

Aspiring Screenwriters

Love’s twin brother, Forty (James Scully)—“like the number,” he helpfully clarifies—is spoiled, addicted to drugs, and has never had to face the consequences of his own actions. Naturally, he’s also trying to break into the movie business, because if there’s anything a life of privilege in L.A. will teach you, it’s that talent matters way less than connections. Wannabe Tarantinos are the most entry-level of L.A. tropes, but You goes above and beyond in the specificity of its name drops. Annapurna! A short film that won a prize at Sundance! Kathryn Bigelow attached to direct! Given that Annapurna ran into some rough financial terrain this year, I’m sure Megan Ellison appreciates the free PR.

Cameos by Popular Podcasters …

Hello, Ira Madison III.

… and Comedians

You too, Kathy Griffin! Everyone associates L.A. with the super-famous, but you can find those in New York, too—and often more easily, because they’re forced to walk the streets instead of driving between private compounds. The true West Coast experience is spotting someone less instantly recognizable than kinda recognizable; maybe you can pick out a voice at the coffee shop from your weekly pop culture roundtable, or the guy next to you at Sweetgreen was the third lead on a now-canceled sitcom. You delivers this experience by casting a few local personalities as themselves, both loosely connected to Chris D’Elia’s (as in, Justin Bieber’s favorite comic) character, a slimy stand-up named Henderson. Both Griffin and Madison are true Who?s, and their presence only enhances You’s sense of place.

Improv

The words “Upright Citizens Brigade” are never said out loud on You, but as with Anavrin/Erewhon, the show doesn’t really bother to pull its punches. The event Forty drags Joe to is even called “Harold Night,” the entirely not-made-up monthly showcase of “house teams” hoping to graduate from UCB classes into its broader ecosystem. (There’s also Maude Night, the sketch counterpart a friend of mine participates in on a regular basis. UCB loves ’70s cinema, and You knows of what it speaks!) It’s the kind of minor detail viewers might not pick up on if they don’t live within a few ZIP codes of UCB’s L.A. and New York theaters, but to those who do, the texture is appreciated.

Joe has zero patience for this “sea of sweaty, thirsty Hollywood outsiders” who spend their time “masquerading as actors-writers-directors to take the pain out of being nannies-baristas-disappointments.” In the grand tradition of shows from BoJack Horseman—which depicts improv as a Scientology-like cult—and Broad City, the You writers are especially unsparing here because they’re speaking from personal experience; producer Neil Reynolds is an improv alum. As a cherry on top, the troupe whose performance Joe cringes through is called “Trigger Warning.” Serial killers may be scary, but as someone who once spent most of a bad date watching someone laugh uproariously at worse comedy, a UCB off night is scarier!

Commute Complaints

Most basin-dwellers aren’t schlepping to the Valley to get bipolar meds for the man whose identity they stole while they keep him prisoner in a storage locker, but it is true we all hate doing it! Joe’s victim should be grateful—and also stay in the Philippines, where he wisely flees after Joe sets him free.

Teen Auteurs

On You, not even high schoolers are exempt from the rat race. This season’s upgrade on cute-neighbor-kid Paco is Ellie Alves (Disney Channel and Jane the Virgin grad Jenna Ortega), the 15-year-old kid sister of Joe’s property manager. Ellie wants to make movies and boasts a casual command of pop culture references that far outstrips the Marvel-and-TikTok media diets of most contemporary mall rats. Sean Baker inspired her school project; we’re told her short is equal parts Rear Window and The Florida Project; she even reenacts The Big Lebowski, which is sort of disturbing. But given the L.A. natives I know who saw Apocalypse Now before they could drive, it’s not off base!

Ellie also networks hard: an internship for a famous comedian here, a PA gig there, a stint as a writers’ assistant on Forty’s latest harebrained venture. L.A. has plenty of dreamers who feel entitled to making it big with minimal effort, but there are just as many schemers who pound the pavement in search of the next opportunity.

The “Well-Kend”

Joe meets Love’s parents at an event that’s basically Goop on peyote, complete with “wolf yoga.” (In case it’s not completely clear, “Well-kend” is a cringe-inducing portmanteau of “wellness” and “weekend.”) It’s like if this New York Times hate-read about a Topanga Canyon tea ceremony got optioned into a made-for-TV movie, in a good way? Taking on the wellness industry is basically shooting omega-3-packed fish in a barrel—or maybe a Truth Yurt—but as long as Amanda Chantal Bacon has social media, You is free to go in. And so it does, well after the Well-kend is over!

It’s so important to look out for scammer shamans. Take note, Princess Martha Louise of Norway!

Bonus: Love’s Rebound

In L.A., there’s no shortage of fundamentally unserious people to distract you from recent heartbreak. Been there, girl! This being You, Love doesn’t stay away from Joe for long, but we can pretend she’s shacked up in an ashram somewhere Down Under until Season 3 comes along; “Australian Zen Buddhist travel blogger” is in the upper echelon of L.A. Tinder bios, right between “I love The Office as much as I love tacos” and “Just looking for someone to watch movies with!”