Is ‘You’ problematic?



Penn Badgley plays serial killer Joe Goldberg in the hit Netflix series “You.”

The hit Netflix series “You” recently finished up its fourth season with a fifth on the way. DePaul students and viewers shared their thoughts on the potential societal impacts the show may have, such as the pattern of Hollywood casting conventionally attractive actors in controversial roles. 

“People who don’t critically think about his actions won’t realize the severity of them,” said Isabel Rivera, a junior communications major. 

“You” follows Joe Goldberg, played by Penn Badgley. Badgley has appeared in the show “Gossip Girl” and the film “Easy A.”Joe is first introduced as an employee of an independent bookstore. His inner dialogue is poetic and romantic.Although, throughout the show, Joe finds different victims that he obsesses over, stalks and meticulously integrates himself into their lives. Along the way, he brutally murders people he views as a threat on his journey to find true love. 

Love Quinn is a romantic interest in the show, played by Victoria Pedretti. She is introduced in the second season of the show. While the relationship between Love and Joe starts out similar to the relationship from the previous season, it develops and is revealed that Love is also a murderer. 

“People also glorified Love Quinn for murdering, saying she was a girlboss and stuff, but you have attractive actors stalking and killing,” Rivera said. 

It is a common theme in Hollywood to cast conventionally attractive actors to portray malicious characters, a recent example being Evan Peters, who played Jeffery Dahmer in Netflix’s original series “Dahmer.” 

The show is fully narrated by Joe, where he intimately shares his thoughts and plans with the audience. “He’s an unreliable narrator,” Rivera said. An unreliable narrator is a first-person narration that should be taken with a grain of salt. It is often used to mislead the audience, and is exactly what the show does with Joe as the narrator. 

Aliz Urquia is a sophomore with a minor in psychology. She brings up Badgley speaking out against the actions his character makes and conventionally attractive actors in controversial roles.

“It’s just a normal thing because so many shows have just fantasized about serial killers. So it’s not weird anymore. It’s like, Oh, yeah. He kills people. That’s so wrong,” Urquia said. 

Urquia brought up how Badgley has condemned his character on social media. 

“I’m not saying it’s a reliable story, but on TikTok, Penn Bradley – the guy who plays Joe in the show – he’s literally going on and saying, “Guys, this is not okay.” He’s literally not even okay with his own personal character. And he is the one that does the show.” 

While Badgley has spoken out about his actions on the show and told the audience not to glorify him, fans have persisted. If you type the show’s title into Instagram or TikTok, a plethora of fan pages dedicated to Badgley and his character will appear. There has been a desensitization to shows like “You.” A part of that may be due to conventionally attractive actors being casted in these roles. 

When asked if she would still watch the show if a less conventionally attractive actor was casted, Urquia said, “probably not.” 

Urquia felt differently about the “Dahmer” show. 

“I think that one was a bit more of actually telling the story of Jeffrey Dahmer and what he did. And this one is just a fictional fantasy type of one.” Urquia said. 

The “Dahmer” show is a mini series that came out in 2022 on Netflix. 

“So it’s like the one with Dahmer, I just didn’t watch and I was like, I don’t care to watch it also because the guy that played Dahmer to me wasn’t conventionally attractive. But this one is like, we’ve known this guy since Gossip Girl,” Urquia said. 

According to Variety, when Season 4 of the show debuted, it reached 92.07 million hours of viewership. Without Badgley, it could be assumed that the views would not reach these numbers. 

Faustyna Turek, a viewer and fan of the show shared her opinions on the show. 

Turek recognized the impacts the show may have, especially with how Badgley portrayed his character. 

“He makes us really sympathize with him for some weird reason. It’s almost like I forget that he’s an evil person,” Turek said. 

Throughout the show, it is insinuated that Joe can be redeemed, yet his pattern of crimes continue throughout the series. 

“Throughout the show, I’m actually rooting for him in a weird way up until the last season, but I’d say that it does put a little bit of glamorization on, just like, I mean, there’s like this ritualistic thing that occurs where women will, like almost start to like somebody despite their crimes because of the way they look,” Turek said. 

The obsession over controversial characters is nothing new. Whether this is healthy or not, is still debated amongst casual media consumers and psychologists.