Love or obsession? For Pinoy fans of the cult hit Netflix original series You, it’s both — they’re in love and obsessed with this 21st century stalker drama — like the rest of the world.
So it was such a treat for Filipinos when You stars Penn Badgley and Shay Mitchell recently visited Manila on 14 and 15 January to further promote the show. Not that it needed more promoting, really, as the 10-episode series became the most-watched on Netflix in the second week of January, topping Friends, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and A Series of Unfortunate Events. Even Piers Morgan raved about it on Twitter, saying he’s craving for more after watching four episodes straight.
The duo made an appearance to the press on Monday at The Peninsula Manila at an event called “In Conversation with You,” chatting on stage with TV and radio personality Joyce Pring.
The next day, Netflix held a special event at Greenbelt 5 for the fans — with the organizers recreating the show’s fictional bookstore, Mooney’s, at The Greenbelt Gallery.
While this is Badgley’s first trip to Manila (he played Dan Humphrey in the hugely successful series Gossip Girl), it’s the third for Mitchell, the stunning Fil-Canadian actress born to a Scottish-Irish father and a Kapampangan mother, and who famously played Emily Fields in Pretty Little Liars.
Before meeting the press for some heartfelt conversations about the show and their characters, the two shared a hearty, giant bowl of halo-halo at the hotel lobby, with Badgley telling the media: “It was great. I mean, it has a lot of sugar…but it was nice.”
It’s cute, really, the sight of Badgley and Mitchell enjoying Manila Peninsula’s famous “Halo-Halo Harana” together, when in the series, their characters loathe each other.
Badgley, though, likened his working relationship with Mitchell to the popular Filipino dessert: “I love working with Shay because we’re different, like the ingredients of halo-halo, we mix well, ” he teased. “Unity in diversity.”
What ‘You’ is about
If you’re still out of the loop, You is a psychological thriller based on Caroline Kepnes’ best-selling debut novel of the same title (Stephen King praised it as “hypnotic and scary…never read anything like it.”). It follows Joe (Badgley), a psycho bookstore manager who becomes obsessed with grad student Beck (Elizabeth Lail of Once Upon a Time) and begins stalking her all over the city, picking up clues from her social media activities.
Mitchell’s character, Peach Salinger, is one of the show’s real treats; the actress giving her character — Beck’s crazy-rich and troubled best friend — edge and mystery, with the show unfurling with thickening tension between her and Joe.
Don’t go crazy over Joe
When host Pring asked the stars about their thoughts on their respective characters, Badgley cringed. Not surprising, because the character Joe is not just a freak — he’s also a murderer, somewhat reminding you of Dexter.
“I dislike everything (about Joe),” Badgley said. “Except that he’s curious. That’s not bad alone — but that’s not all that he is, though,” he reminded everyone.
The actor admitted that when he read the script for the first time, he was “quite troubled.”
“I was actually, like, ‘Good luck!’ But I don’t know if I can do this for such a long period of time. When you do a film, for instance, it’s like two months, and then you don’t do it again. This…it’s like six months. Maybe it will go on, season after season….killing more people.”
But the 32-year-old actor is highly appreciative of the show’s success, despite him playing such a challenging role.
“We agree that everybody else consumes it in a way that is enjoyable. But it’s, like, I kind of take the burden of somewhat making it real for myself…but I can appreciate the fact that it’s being consumed.”
The actor had a bit of a controversy when he became viral on Twitter recently. If his character Joe is an obsessed weirdo, well, some of the show’s fans have become obsessed weirdos themselves, romanticizing Joe, with others making bizarre requests for Badgley/Joe to “kidnap them.”
This is obviously due to the fact that Badgley is a TV heartthrob. In 2011, he was one of People’s “25 Beauties (and Hotties) at 25” and he was ranked number 75 by BuddyTV on its “TV’s 100 Sexiest Men of 2011” list.
Badgley is pretty active on Twitter, attempting to extinguish the strange limerence for his character.
“We, the people who made the show, should take responsibility. I mean, he’s a charming guy. That was obviously what they (the writers and directors) wanted him to be, charming.” he shared. “To me he’s not a real person,” he added, and advised viewers not to admire Joe — or become obsessed with a stalker-killer.
Social media and stalking
The duo was surprised when Pring told them that the Philippines is the social media capital of the world, and the topic of the series’ creepily accurate depiction of social media came up — this oftentimes deceptive, pretentious and intoxicating virtual realm.
“There’s so many people that can fall in love and become obsessed with someone who they had never even met before. And that’s the world that we live in now,” the 31-year-old Mitchell pondered loudly.
“You get to know all of this information that that person is putting out there, making this person in your mind to be…this imaginary young vision. I completely get it when people become fascinated with people, because you feel like you get to know them by what they put out there. I also have to question some things I put out there — just how much of it I want people to be aware of.”
Mitchell further added about the tricky aspect of social media.
“The images you are seeing are people’s highlight reel, it’s not reality,” she said. “It’s the best of the best moment of that day that’s been curated and perfected and filtered a million times. If you could go into it knowing that, then you can use it appropriately.”
Badgley, who admitted to be not as social-media savvy as Mitchell, shared his thoughts instead about his character’s use of social media in the show.
“I actually think what Joe is doing is, in a way, quite normal— that’s the most disturbing part. He really isn’t doing anything that’s super high tech,” he mused.
To further describe his character’s twisted mind, he said: “I think, in a way, Joe is like, ‘I’m courageous. Everyone else is doing this (stalking) behind closed doors, on their phones, but I’ll do it in real life because I’m brave!’”
Trashy fun and addictive — and absolutely disturbing — You is the kind of sick entertainment that you can’t help devouring in one sitting. You are unsettled by Joe, but sometimes find yourself slightly sympathizing with him. It’s conflicting. Scary, icky, but intriguing.
Apart from its chilling portrait of modern-day stalking and social media, the show has an engaging script and is deliciously literary — with Joe being a hyperliterate and Beck a poet and an aspiring writer, and best friends with Peach, a relative of J.D. Salinger. Set in warm, sunset-y New York City, the show is also an eye-candy. And there’s this sheer, guilty pleasure of watching disturbed individuals wrecking their lives.
The show was created and developed by Greg Berlanti (Riverdale) and Sera Gamble (The Magicians), and premiered 28 September 2018 on Lifetime and released internationally on Netflix on 26 December 2018. This year, Netflix confirmed a second season, which will be based on Kepnes’ second novel Hidden Bodies.
Towards the end of the “In Conversation with YOU” event, Badgley and Mitchell learned to say “Mahal namin kayo,” complete with the finger heart sign. No doubt, Pinoy fans who “heart” the series and binged on the first season will be doing some online stalking on the show, obsessively waiting for the second season.