There are a couple of things that happen when you watch the premiere episode of Lifetime's new thriller series YOU. First, if you are one of the insane people that don't have a lock on your phone in 2018, you'll fix that situation. Secondly, you'll find yourself questioning why you're simultaneously horrified by Joe (Penn Badgley) yet intrigued by his methods. Part of you might even want him to end up with the object of his stalker affection, Beck (Elizabeth Lail), and that should make you feel horrible. But don't worry, you're not alone.
The series is based on Caroline Kepnes' novel of the same name and YOU showrunner Sera Gamble wanted to bring the relation to Joe you feel in the book to the series.
"Part of the fun of the book, and now the show, is that you may be surprised by some moments where you find yourself rooting for a character you know is doing bad things," Gamble told TV Guide at the Television Critics Summer Press Tour. "This, to me, is part of the brilliance of Caroline's book; is that she was very explicit about the things that Joe was doing. And yet, there were times that I found myself really rooting for the couple. I was sort of horrified at myself and then it caused me to really think about the kind of movies I grew up loving, the kind of love songs I grew up singing — the message that we give our boys and our girls is that certain things are romantic, that in actual life are illegal, and stalking, and not romantic. They're invasive."
Kepnes agrees that the power of her book and now the television series — both of which were developed before the birth of the #MeToo movement — comes from the conditioning we've received growing up. So even when Joe clubs Beck's boyfriend with a mallet, we're shocked but ultimately understand where he's coming from, whether we want to admit it or not.
"I knew right away that Sera understood all of this; that it's about the way that we live and the way that we all come to think and process things," Kepnes said. "And that's where the show — the world is broadened and in a way that it feels like the book, but it's three dimensional. Everyone is the Joe on this."
Joe's charm comes from the fact that he honestly doesn't want to own Beck, but convinces himself, and the audience, that he wants the best for her. He's just unfathomably sure that "the best" is him.
"In the pilot, when he's like, 'Act like you could be better than this,' he's right!," Kepnes said. "What do you make of someone, in our current time, who is both shy and smart, and genuine? He doesn't want to protect her. He's not that guy that's like, 'Stop writing! Prove you love me!' He wants her to be her best self, but he also does all these horrible things."
While the series hopes to give you a better understand of the world that Joe operates in, Gamble and Kepnes aren't going to tell you which side to choose. Just know that they understand whichever one you do.
"We're not trying to make you empathize or make you not empathize," Gamble said. "We're really leaving that up to you."
YOU airs Sundays at 10/9c on Lifetime.