Those who choose to dive into Lifetime's You, one of Netflix's current buzz-worthy acquisitions, are probably expecting to be simply creeped out. After all, the show centers around Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), a sociopathic, murderous bookstore manager who stalks and seduces Beck (Elizabeth Lail), an unassuming MFA student.
Instead, many fans are grappling with confusion and questioning their moral compasses because Joe is somehow... hot? Even though Badgley's character is unhinged, violent, and his need to "protect" Beck is completely misguided, he also manages to be charming, quick-witted, and looks great in his work apron.
Fans have posted about their discomfort with their conflicting feelings on social media, and Badgley himself has weighed in:
His insistence that fans should not romanticize his character is noble, but much of his audience remains unconvinced. One theory is that You builds on a rom-com trope that persistence and making a grand gesture is what "good" men need to do to win women over. The Cut likens Joe's heroic fantasies to that of Richard Gere's Edward in Pretty Woman or John Cusack's boombox-holding character in Say Anything. Another example that comes to mind is that of the phantom in The Phantom of the Opera, who kills people and stalks Christine but somehow manages to still come off as eerily seductive. Women (and men) are conditioned by these kinds of movies to confuse harassment and devotion, which theoretically could explain people's thirst while watching You.
The show aired on Lifetime in September, but Netflix's addition of the show to its arsenal has generated a recent spike in popularity. And more recently, people have noticed something even more unsettling: Joe's likeness to notorious serial killer Ted Bundy. Bundy was executed for assaulting and killing over 30 women in the '70s. One of the most notable aspects of his trial, however, was that Bundy was regarded by many (including his victims) as handsome and charismatic. He even got married to a former coworker of his while he was on death row in Florida.
While Badgley said in an interview that You creators Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble are adamant that the show isn't a cautionary tale, fans are understandably feeling a bit paranoid.
It probably won't help that an upcoming series about Bundy will star Fellow Hot Guy Zac Efron, adding to viewers' discomfort and further tangling their emotions. Good luck, everyone.