If you couldn't help but feel a little bit attracted to Penn Badgley's character in You, congrats! That's exactly what was supposed to happen, at least at first.
In a couple of new interviews, You showrunner Sera Gamble has been talking about adapting the show from the books by Caroline Kepnes, and the way the character and the show were designed to make Joe Goldberg (Badgley) the ultimate leading romcom man...until you discover that he's an extra creepy stalkery murderer.
"There's a very vocal contingent of fans of Caroline Kepnes' book who were like, 'I heart Joe.' Essentially what she's done is taken the classic romantic hero and just peeled back the gloss and sheen and John Cusack with the boom box and she followed it to its logical conclusion," Gamble told THR during their annual drama showrunner roundtable. "I mean, if you turn off the sappy music and turn on a David Fincher score, romantic comedies are stalker movies."
"Romantic comedy behavior in real life is criminal!" Gamble continued, with plenty of examples: he's chasing her through an airport, chasing her on a freeway, watching her sleep. "That was basically the starting place for the show."
"The plot of pretty much everyone I can think of—and we have watched all of them many times in the writers' room—is contingent on the guy...well first of all, he has to do a certain amount of f--king up so she can forgive him. And he has to get over some of her shortcomings," Gamble says. "I mean, that's love, right?"
Badgley has been pretty vocal with fans who claim they're in love with Joe, and openly troubled by the character. Gamble said it's a conversation they constantly had to have with Badgley over every script, and they knew they could only get someone like Badgley to play a guy like Joe.
"For Penn, when Greg Berlanti and I were talking about the casting, we talked about how we needed an actor who really felt like Joe Goldberg was on paper. And Penn is all of that great stuff: He's thoughtful, he's a reader, he's a humanitarian, he's a feminist, he's extremely disturbed by Joe's behavior," Gamble said. "A lot of our conversations throughout [making] season one were largely about his level of discomfort with each thing I was sending him. Penn's never like, 'That feels weird, I'm not going to do it.' He's like, 'We're going to do it, let's just talk it through, and by the way, I have never been more uncomfortable in my life.'"
While the pilot starts with Joe's narration and light stalking of Beck (Elizabeth Lail), it's not immediately obvious that he's someone dangerous, and that his light stalking is a sign of much worse habits, which was part of the point.
"In order to make the structure of the episode work for the TV show, that first scene needs to positively function as a pure romantic comedy scene. It's a meet-cute and it shouldn't feel creepy," Gamble told Variety.
"We even got some early notes that in the first five minutes of the show you can't really tell where it's going," she continued. "But to me, that was the thesis of the whole show: You can't really tell. So if this feels like a romantic comedy to you, let's look at other things that look like a romantic comedy to you and non-judgmentally admit to one another that we enjoy stories about men who transgress and take away agency and save the day by maybe even killing people. It was really, really important to us to preserve the idea that this was two young, good-looking people in a bookstore who maybe have some stuff in common—until you push into his eyes at the end of that scene and you're like, ‘Wait a minute…'"
In adapting the book to the screen, a few changes were also made to that opening scene to further hide Joe's true nature, like a reference to Beck being "embarrassed to be a good girl," so that Joe wouldn't immediately come off as a guy who "looks at every woman and judges her as a virgin or a slut," Gamble told Variety.
One scene that does start to reveal Joe's true creepiness in that first episode is one that Gamble thought would be the end of anyone being on board with the show at all.
"The scene that actually made me nervous, though, was in the pilot. Very early in the first episode, a character masturbates on the street in shadow," she said during the THR roundtable, referring to Joe, across the street from Beck's apartment, masturbating in the bushes. "I was watching it at a screening and i was like, 'Oh, we're going to lose them and they're never coming back.' Then the next scene came and everyone was on board, and that was the moment I knew the show would work. I was really doing it on faith until that point."
The show worked so well that when it landed on Netflix, after originally premiering on Lifetime, it became a huge hit, and the streaming site picked it up for a second season, which will star Badgley alongside Victoria Pedretti as Love Quinn, the new object of his affection, as the show moves from New York to Los Angeles. You can find everything we know about the second season below!
You is currently streaming on Netflix.