After failing to generate much interest on the Lifetime network last fall, You debuted on Netflix the day after Christmas and has been one of the most popular and the most talked about shows of 2019, so far. The series is about a character named Joe, played by Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgley, who obsessively stalks — both online and physically — a woman with whom he falls in love, and Joe is willing to murder anyone who stands in the way of his relationship with Beck (Elizabeth Lail).
What’s interesting about You — and what has stirred the most conversation (and controversy) — is that the series is told from the stalker’s perspective, and because the series also follows certain romcom beats familiar to those who watched shows like Gossip Girl and Felicity, it’s created some emotional confusion surrounding the character. Millie Bobby Brown, for instance, faced some backlash a couple of weeks ago for professing love for Joe, who she claimed “is not creepy” but “in love” with Beck (I’d like to give Brown the benefit of the doubt and assume she was not very deep into the first season yet when she Instagrammed that). Moreover, Penn Badgley himself went viral after he took to social media to discourage fans from romanticizing his character. He also faced some minor backlash for confusing the intent of one woman’s tweet, though he helped to diffuse that after a lengthy DM conversation with the woman in question.
In either respect, what’s also been interesting about You is that, while the occasional fan has confessed to romantic feelings for Joe’s stalker-murderer character, it’s actually men who find the character more horrifying, as Penn Badgley explains to The New York Times:
In my experience, it tends to be men who are more horrified by Joe. I’ll go out on a limb and wonder if that is because it’s less of a novel idea to women. He’s like a nightmare that you’ve repeatedly had, whereas men are like, “This isn’t real!” Women are like, “Of course it isn’t real, but it’s extremely representative of something.”
In other words, many women see shades of this character in their lives every day, while most men — unless they are a version of “Joe” themselves — are seeing this character for the first time outside of newspaper headlines and social-media accounts. For men, it offers a horrifying, eye-opening glimpse into the realities that many women have to face. “I think there’s a way of seeing Joe as the first time we’ve represented this kind of character in a responsible fashion,” Badgley continues, “because to the degree that we are making him romantic and charming and glamorous, we are still being like “Yeah, but he [also] kills … What more can we tell you about his character than that?”
That should be all we need to know.