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‘You’ Is Really About Love, According to Star Penn Badgley



Netflix’s smash hit You isn’t quite what you think it is, according to star Penn Badgley. Despite the high body count, Badgley insists it’s really a story about love and relationship power dynamics. The 36-year-old star is also wary of audiences falling too much for Joe as the character attempts to evolve. But even with some backlash about its portrayal of a serial killer, You remains one of Netflix’s most popular shows after wrapping the second part of Season 4 on a high note.

Penn Badgley believes ‘You’ is more than a serial killer show

Badgley has generated plenty of acclaim for playing serial killer Joe Goldberg on You. However, Badgley hasn’t always appeared comfortable with the outpouring of fan love. When the show first blew up, he frequently took to social media to deflect the enthusiasm away from his character. At one point, Badgley agreed on Twitter that it was frightening to see Joe Goldberg romanticized.

But Badgley also seems to relish the challenge that comes with trying to elevate the material. Talking to GQ about the arc of Joe in Season 4, Badgley expressed his gratitude to the writers for challenging the audience. Talking about toying with the idea of Joe trying to change his tone, Badgley said, “It doesn’t make any sense when Joe becomes a hero.”

Split into two parts, Season 4 of You seemed to subvert fan expectations before bringing Joe’s character full circle. After faking his death and fleeing California, Joe starts to rehabilitate his image as a professor living in London. While Joe mostly reacts to grisly plot twists in Part 1, Part 2 shows how disturbed and dangerous he truly is.

Badgley says love is a central ingredient in ‘You’


Badgley’s likable serial killer has clearly generated audience buzz. However, the actor is quick to highlight another driving force pushing the show forward. In a sit down with This Morning, Badgley said that You was “quite different” from a serial killer show. He then quickly pivoted to his own artistic motivation. “It’s a show that’s about love, actually,” he said. He further explained that Joe is meant to be allegorical instead of a clinical version of a psychopath.

But Badgley’s version of love isn’t exactly rainbows and rose petals –- at least not in the show. Suggesting a satirical bend to the material, Badgley pointed out that jealousy, manipulation, and power dynamics often get jumbled up with love. Joe ends up embodying a twisted form of love, which is often glossed over because of the character’s charming personality.

Although Badgley insists the love dynamics are similar to other shows he’s been in, he does acknowledge that the obsession with crime shows is a reason You has taken off. Speaking to Entertainment Tonight via TikTok, Badgley summed up the manipulative way the show attracts the audience. “Now, to be fair, with our show, you’re meant to fall in love with him,” he joked. “That’s on us.”

Some critics have lambasted ‘You’ for glamorizing a murderer

While Badgley himself has shown concern about fetishizing a serial killer, some critics of the show are outspoken about its themes. Rachel Horman, an expert on stalking and domestic abuse, finds You problematic for the way it uses rom-com tropes to set up the audience. In an interview with Refinery 29, Horman said, “Shows such as You perpetuate the problem of stalking and male violence against women by normalizing it and even making it seem glamorous or attractive.”

But others have suggested nuance is needed to understand the You phenomenon. A Paste Magazine piece highlighted the issue of charm overriding the good sense of the viewer, leaving audiences every bit as manipulated as the women in the show. Badgley has even addressed the idea of some women enjoying the fantasy of being stalked by a charming serial killer. “You need to look at that, inside,” he said in the Entertainment Tonight TikTok.

The buzz –- both good and bad –- has only contributed to the overall popularity of the show. According to Deadline, You Season 4, Part 1 quickly became Netflix’s top show in the U.S. when it dropped in February, ranking in the top 10 in 90 different countries. Nearly as many viewers returned a few weeks later for Part 2, per a follow-up by Deadline. Season 5 of You has been confirmed to be the final season, and will be released in 2024.


Source: Cheat Sheet

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