If audiences find homicidal stalker Joe Goldberg charming, that’s not a concern for “You” showrunner Sera Gamble. “I think most people get it. I think that people have a sense of humor about it,” she said. “You can’t micromanage what people take away from a show.”
In “You,” adapted from the Caroline Kepnes novel of the same name, bookstore manager Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) pursues aspiring writer Genevieve Beck (Elizabeth Lail) to the point of invading her privacy, stalking her around New York, stealing personal items, and then ultimately killing several people who threaten his happiness with her. By the end of Season 1, Beck herself becomes his victim.
Concerns about audiences swooning over the stalker-murderer began to arise after the first season of Lifetime’s “You” moved to Netflix. Taken in by Badgley’s chiseled good looks, viewers began to tweet their disturbing devotion in ways that forgave his character’s criminal actions.
I’m telling u it’s ur face that does it. Ur gorgeous. I can see past that crazy shit lol https://t.co/5hry9hswnW
— Rosie (@rose_barbie_) January 9, 2019
But you’re supposed to see past my face TO the crazy shit! It’s the other way! The other wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyhhyyyyggg :)
— Penn Badgley (@PennBadgley) January 9, 2019
Other tweets followed with Badgley pointing out his character’s murderous ways to amorous fans. The glib posts went viral to the point where the actor had to spell out that he wanted to have a serious discussion about Joe’s twisted perception of love. Badgley had been conflicted about portraying the character from the start, and in an early interview with IndieWire, he addressed how the series toed that line.
“Did we do something irresponsible? I can’t say with 100 percent certainty that we didn’t,” he said. “I’m admitting that now because I was concerned about it every day and had to trust. And man, it was tough.”
Gamble acknowledges that the character of Joe is problematic. In keeping with the show’s half-scary, half-cheeky tone, she said, “He is a guy who could stand to be a little more aware of the line between love and obsession. I think that for a guy who hates violence and would never, ever want to kill someone, he’s killed an awful lot of people.”
However, Badgley’s approach signaled to Gamble how right Badgley was for tackling the role. “I think when you see the way that Penn talks about the show, it reflects how he’s always been very, very clear about why he’s doing the show and why he would take on a role that a character he finds distasteful in so many ways,” she said. “I see him as just being very honest, but with a sense of humor about it. That level of thoughtfulness I found imperative in Season 1. It made the season a partnership, where we were together, working on illuminating this thing we were interested in talking about.”
She added, “I understood the show better myself the first time I heard his voiceover. I was a little worried that if this doesn’t work, the show’s not going to work. I wasn’t worried about him. When I heard it, it was so intimate, and I really felt he was speaking directly to me in a way that clarified the rest of the season instantly.”
Gamble took social-media scrutiny in stride as “You” moved to Netflix. It’s a boost experienced by many cable and network series; according to “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan, the critically acclaimed AMC show could’ve been canceled if the show didn’t gain a loyal viewership when its first two seasons went to Netflix. That drove audiences back to AMC, which allowed the show to continue for three more seasons. In the case of “You,” Lifetime had already passed on a second season when Netflix swooped in to stream Season 1 and picked up the thriller for a second season.
“Lifetime supported it the best way they could. It didn’t work for that network,” said Gamble. “That’s a bummer, and then the fear was that we wouldn’t get to keep making it, so we were just immensely grateful that Netflix stepped up.”
Despite misguided love for Goldberg on Twitter, Gamble remains pleased by how people embrace the show online.
“It’s just been really fun to be watching people discover the show. I’ll be scrolling through Instagram and just randomly come upon a meme that has Joe Goldberg in it,” she said. Gamble is used to seeing memes and GIFs from “Supernatural,” The CW she once worked on; she curated her Twitter feed for that genre-friendly crowd. “But these [“You” memes] are from totally random people. That’s a new one for me.”
She also credits Netflix for its algorithm. “I think that’s what the Netflix effect is, really,” she said. “They tailor your home page to your viewing pleasure. You discover things that maybe you didn’t even know to go look for, because there’s how many scripted shows now? Like a million. How are you supposed to keep track? Nobody can, so Netflix brings it to you, and then you can follow it back to its [network] home. I’m one of the people who caught up on ‘Breaking Bad’ also.”
Although some shows like “The Mindy Project” and “Arrested Development” began to experiment with format and language as they moved from traditional linear to streaming, Gamble isn’t adjusting the way she works. She still believes in crafting an episode to be self contained.
“We wrote the first season of ‘You’ to always have a really fun moment at the very end of the episode that made you want to see the next one. We’re aware that we’re constructing it to have cliffhangers, to be bingeable,” she said. “It’s the same way that when you’re airing on commercial TV, you want to have some kind of a cliffhanger or a question going into your commercial break. [On Netflix,] it just shifts a little bit. There are some freedoms around content and language and time, but I feel like a tight episode of TV is a tight episode of TV. I don’t have a lot of patience for TV that kind of meanders and indulges itself. I’m just too well trained at this point in the art of breaking the story into acts. So we still pay very close attention to the plotting.”
Season 2 is loosely adapted from Kepnes’ sequel novel, “Hidden Bodies,” in which Joe finds a fresh start on the West Coast. In Los Angeles, he becomes associated with Love Quinn (“The Haunting of Hill House” star Victoria Pedretti), an aspiring chef.
The second season will also continue the show’s tradition of literary and poetic references. “We live in Los Angeles in Season 2, so there might be a little Joan Didion in there,” she said.
“You” Season 1 is currently streaming on Netflix. Season 2 will begin shooting in February.