There are many reasons not to crush on Penn Badgley's You character Joe: He's a stalker, a serial killer, and the epitome of "nice guy syndrome." Our logical brain may understand that we should not be charmed by this toxic bookstore manager, but if you find yourself swooning over Joe's wooing of MFA student Beck (Elizabeth Lail) regardless, you're not alone. Much like Joe manipulated Beck into loving him, so did the show trick us into adoring Joe.
In a new interview with Vulture, the many people behind You revealed how they worked to craft a protagonist that was "likable," even in his twisted ways.
One way that the show made Joe into someone to root for (at least, in some scenes) was by adding Paco (Luca Padovan), a neighbor kid who looks up to Joe. (Though You is based on Caroline Kepnes' book of the same name, Paco is a brand-new addition for the Lifetime-turned-Netflix series.)
"When I would shoot Penn, it was from Paco’s point of view," said Marcos Siega, who directed eight episodes of the series. "To make him the strong figure, the big brother."
It's not just in the story: the physical look of the TV series also helps the audience feel comfortable with Joe.
"I wanted something that felt like a great New York love story, just with a very disturbed protagonist," director Lee Toland Krieger, who shot the show's pilot, told Vulture. "The show opens with these luscious slow-motion shots. There’s that amber glow. It doesn’t feel like a thriller."
"We cut inside Beck’s apartment and Joe’s there, and we have this kind of fun pop song playing, and his jacket is off and he’s smiling — hopefully you do get swept up in the fantasy of it."
You operates as both a romantic comedy and a serial killer story. Strip away some of the more disturbing aspects of Joe's personality (like, umm, the murder-y part and his obsession with locking people in cages) and he's a protagonist who is not all that different from the Hugh Grant, Tom Hanks and Billy Crystal characters we love.
Still, let's not forget that the show makes it blatantly clear that no amount of rom-com tropes can save Joe. If there's anyone to remind you of that, it's the guy who plays him:
"He is a murderer," Badgley replied to one fan on Twitter.
The power of good TV is strong, but may Badgley's Joe reminders be stronger.