Caroline Kepnes' Joe Goldberg novels, which begin with 2014's You, got the television series adaptation treatment from executive producer and writer Sera Gamble in 2018. And thus, yet another problematic male protagonist causing conflicting emotions in his audience was brought to the screen.
The series, which is also titled You, follows Joe, played by Penn Badgley, as he first lives in New York City, works in a bookstore, and stalks Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail). Since the show comes from his perspective and includes his voiceover narration of innermost thoughts (hence the second-person description of the women he stalks — and no, that plural was not a typo), it offers its viewers the chance to get inside the mind of a very troubled man. Although he claims (and to a degree even believes) what he does is for love, he doesn't really know the women he stalks — not at first. And when he gets to know them, well, how often does what you're imagining match up to the reality? Right. So, because of his disappointment and their autonomy and agency, things don't go according to his plan.
This is not a story where Joe gets his happily ever after, but unfortunately neither do the women. Because once Joe has them in his sights, he will do anything he can to keep them, and yes, that includes murder — of those around them, and — spoiler alert — even them.
The second season, like the second book, takes Joe to Los Angeles, where he tries to start over but once again falls in over his head in infatuation — this time with Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti), who comes from a rich family but has even richer (and dark!) secrets of her own. While she seems like she may be a good match for him in a number of ways, his wandering eye can't help but look around. Enter Marienne (Tati Gabrielle) in Season 3.
At the end of the third season, Joe flees yet another city, but this time he also fakes his own death to add to the carnage he leaves behind. Chasing Marienne across the pond, the fourth season, which is split into two parts and premieres the first half Feb. 9, 2023 on Netflix, will join him in London, where he (under a new name, of course) is now playing professor. As in the Los Angeles seasons, he will fall into yet another crowd of wealthy, privileged, and yes, pretty horrible people. But who will grab his stalker eye and who may get in the way of that and therefore become a new victim remains to be seen.
If you're jonesing for more murderous men before You's fourth season premieres, here, Metacritic highlights 10 shows like it to watch next.
Best for: Those who root for the killer, despite all the killing
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The titular killer in this dark comedy is of the contract kind, but in some ways that makes him even scarier than Joe Goldberg. But, he has a greater sense of self-awareness and does want to drop his day job to become an actor and maybe even a better person. The former part of that, too, might be scarier than Joe Goldberg to some people, but what can you do? As for the latter, well, "maybe" is the operative word, as he struggles to let go of what ties him to his profession, including an inner darkness that sees him lash out at even the woman he claims to love. Co-created by and starring Bill Hader, Barry centers on the eponymous antihero but does expand out to be more of an ensemble, allowing important alternate perspectives to seep in and alleviate some of the discomfort from following such a morally complicated man around. These other perspectives include his acting teacher Gene Cousineau's (Henry Winkler), his actor-hopeful girlfriend Sally's (Sarah Goldberg), and others in his line of work, including Monroe Funches (Stephen Root) and Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan).
"There is a whole new level of danger in the air, but yet some of the show's darkest moments happen while no one's holding a gun. The fact that Barry makes a point of this is why it's one of the smartest shows on TV right now." — Liz Shannon Miller, Consequence
Best for: Fans of finding empathy for the obsessive
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This six-part miniseries doesn't appear to be as concerned with murder as You, but then again, neither did Joe at the beginning. In this case, though, it is not the protagonist who commits a murder; rather, she investigates whether the supposed death by suicide of her former childhood friend could be something more nefarious. Becky (Erin Doherty) becomes obsessed with getting close to her former friend's loved ones to get to the bottom of things and quickly infiltrates that inner circle in order to figure out why her friend took such drastic action. Although there is some altruism in such a plan, there is also an underlying psychological concern Becky ignores. She and Joe may have more in common than you'd think at first glance, even if they go about things in slightly different ways.
"The result is an unusually human grifter story. Instead of diving into the trite subject of sociopathic behavior, like Inventing Anna or Dirty John, Chloe finds depth, authenticity, and even compassion in its profile of a scammer." — Judy Berman, Time
Best for: Fans of cat-and-mouse serial killer/law enforcement stories with geopolitical undercurrents
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For anyone whose favorite season of You is the third one, when Joe is balanced by Love, you will find similarities in The Fall — only the male-female dynamic that matters most here is the one between Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), a family man by day and serial killer by, well, whenever he can manage it, and Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), an investigator trying to identify and apprehend the serial criminal who is attacking women. Needless to say, that criminal is Paul, which has them at a distance at first but inching closer to each other in orbit as the series goes on. Unlike You, which stays out of politics unless they are of the gender variety, The Fall utilizes the hierarchy in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, as well as some larger societal issues, to showcase why Stella can't get her guy, even when she knows it's him pretty early on. However, like You, the show spends a lot of time exploring how a seemingly regular guy can get away with so much.
"These days, slow is what passes for serious. Anderson's performance is what makes The Fall worth watching." — Willa Paskin, Salon
Best for: Fans of serial killers with a moral code
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Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) grew up with a Dark Passenger that his adoptive, cop father recognized and allowed — as long as he followed a specific "code" when he indulged it. This code is what kept Dexter's own crimes balancing the scales (he only killed people he could prove were already terrible people, if not criminals themselves) and also what kept him from getting caught (his victims were all kinds, which didn't draw the media or police's attention to one solitary killer, if the bodies were found at all). By day Dexter works as a blood spatter analyst, so he is pretty much hiding in plain sight, and access to police files and cases allows him to easily find the next person to put on his own table. As the seasons go on, his professional and personal lives intermingle as his obsession to always get his kill ends up getting people he actually does care about, well, killed. He starts the series believing he has no real loving feelings but determined to fake it and blend in, as he was taught, but that turns out not to be fully true, which leaves him surprisingly vulnerable at times. You'll notice Joe and Dexter have surprisingly similarities in background and emotional unintelligence, if not motive for their crimes.
"Because Dexter's victims are always so evil, we're inclined to root for him, but moments...where Dexter admits he doesn't really care about saving innocents, just scratching his itch to kill gives the show more moral complexity than you would expect, and it's the better for that." — Alan Sepinwall, The Star-Ledger
Best for: Fans of real-life, high-profile crimes
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The second installment of Ryan Murphy's American Crime Story anthology series focuses on the murder of famed fashion designer Gianni Versace (played here by Édgar Ramirez). It chooses to tell its story starting with the murder, which was committed by spree killer Andrew Cunanan (played here by Darren Criss), and then traveling backwards in time to see the events that led these men's lives to intersect in such a violent way. The show does not spend 100-percent of its time with Andrew, therefore, but when it does, it makes a point to show the events that led him to his crimes, getting inside his life, including his childhood, and his mind in its own way.
"The Assassination Of Gianni Versace plays better as parable than reportage. While it never quite becomes the twin narrative of Versace's and Cunanan's lives that's hinted at in the early episodes, it continues using them as mirror images of one another: creator and destroyer, mother's apprentice and father's favored child, doting brother and prodigal son." — Erik Adams, The A.V. Club
Best for: Fans of psychological thrillers and protagonists with mommy issues
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The 1960 feature film Psycho is a classic for a reason, and that reason is because Alfred Hitchcock struck fear in a new way with his Norman Bates, who was so psychologically damaged by an abusive relationship with his mother that he developed a split personality and took on her personality. So, it's not surprising that is a character other creatives wanted to explore more, and the chance to do so comes in this prequel series starring Freddie Highmore in the role of Norman. (Vera Farmiga plays his mother, who is still very much alive when the show begins.) You may see some similarities between Norman and Joe's mother issues, in addition to the fact that they both kill for love, of sorts, but this is the rare series on the list where the male protagonist's crimes are matched by the female's.
"Bates Motel takes a few episodes to get going ... Bates Motel is an OK character drama, but in building the broader world it inhabits the show begins to come into sharper focus." — Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
If you're really intrigued by someone skulking around in a baseball cap to hide one's identity as Joe does, then you may want to check out this eight-episode miniseries based on Coben's 2015 novel of the same title. The story, which starts with the titular Stranger (Hannah John-Kamen) revealing the fact that Adam's (Richard Armitage) wife faked a pregnancy to him, gets more complicated as it goes on. First the complication is that Adam's wife goes missing after this secret comes to life, but soon enough the secrets the Stranger knows (and reveals) put her at the center of everything, including a criminal investigation. On the surface, it appears very different in story and even in tone than You, but the mystery aspect of it ties it to where You is going.
"Plots pile on top of one another, leaving us to work out how or if they're linked. ... Not dark enough to be great, but highly bingeable." — Anita Singh, The Telegraph
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is another classic film with an equally iconic villain in Nurse Mildred Ratched. In this drama (which is still intended to return for another season at some point), Paulson picks up the mantle of the character years before she met R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson). Set in 1947, Mildred moves to Northern California and begins working at a psychiatric hospital that is partaking in experiments on its patients' psyches. She takes the job in order to get reunited with her foster brother (played by Finn Wittrock) and hopefully break him out of there, but things become more complicated as she gets involved in a romantic relationship, more deeply infiltrates the medical system, and has to face the trauma of her childhood with her foster brother.
"Though it occasionally mistakes 'scary' for 'hard to watch,' Ratched displays a lot more narrative discipline. And yet the whole feels lesser than the sum of its parts. But what parts!" — Inkoo Kang, The Hollywood Reporter
Best for: Fans of infamous true criminals and commentary on law enforcement's failings
Where to watch: Netflix
Evan Peters plays the eponymous serial killer in this 10-episode first season of a larger anthology that explores true crime and its victims. There is less of an emphasis on getting inside his mind here than there is in looking at his actions and how his status as a white man of his time (the late 1970s through early 1990s) allowed him to keep kidnapping, drugging, raping, and killing young men of color. (You, too, explores how being a white man allows Joe to move through the world in a similar way.) The series explores the times he was talked to and even arrested by police, only to be let go, thus enabling him to continue and escalate his crimes. But the show also puts a spotlight on his victims and one special crusader (played by Niecy Nash-Betts) who knew he was up to no good but was not listened to.
"Dahmer has a habit of announcing what kind of show it wants to be instead of actually being that show. ... It's admirable that Dahmer wants to honor the victims' lives and celebrate who Hughes was as a person. But that effort can't be a complete success in a show that also insists on literally reducing Hughes to a piece of meat." — Jen Chaney, Vulture
Best for: Fans of period murders
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Don't confuse this 2016 Masterpiece title with the Jessica Alba-led 2000 series of the same name. This story stars Joanne Froggatt as Mary Ann Cotton, who is believed to be the first female serial killer to take lives in the U.K. (The real Cotton was found guilty of three murders, all of her former husbands, in 1873.) Although the story takes place more than a century before Joe Goldberg's time and it follows a woman with a very specific M.O., some of the themes carry over easily — notably the facts that the protagonist ends up harming the ones she claims to love and that she fails to come under much scrutiny simply because of how unassuming she presents.