How To Handle Anti-Heroes: Joe Goldberg vs Bojack Horseman

Season four of Netflix’s hit TV show “You” recently dropped, and the discourse has been interesting, to say the least. The main character Joe Goldberg is a serial killer who regularly stalks women. However, because the show frames Joe as the protagonist, many viewers sympathize with him.

Over the course of the show, most of Joe’s victims were bad people or threatened to expose him. However, season four pivots by having Joe lean even more into his dark side and kill people without doing all the mental gymnastics he used to do to justify it. 

One common comment I’ve seen among fans of the show is that they can’t believe “they made Joe scary.” Others were even blaming his victims for trying to mess with him. This deeply upset me because the truth is Joe has always been scary! Sure, he has a quirky inner monologue and a tragic backstory. But that doesn’t change the fact that this character is awful, and you shouldn’t root for him.

So what makes fans root for a serial killer who locks people in glass cages?

To answer that question, I wanted to compare “You” to another Netflix original show: “Bojack Horseman.”

“Bojack Horseman” follows the titular character – a washed-up actor whose last notable achievement was a 90s sitcom – and his crazy Hollywood antics. Though the show is set in a world where animals are humanoid, it is very grounded in reality when it comes to its emotional moments. 

This show does an incredible job of showcasing how to keep your protagonist accountable for their actions. “You” should take some notes.

Without venturing too far into spoiler territory, Bojack does some horrible things throughout the show, which traumatize innocent people. Though he learns to be a better person over time, the final season still sees him face the consequences of his actions.

And as an audience member, you feel for Bojack, but you also aren’t upset when his past comes back to bite him. It mirrors the real-life repercussions of the #MeToo movement, as well as general reckonings around some prominent problematic Hollywood figures.

That said, this isn’t a perfect comparison because “You” isn’t done airing yet. However, even before “Bojack Horseman” concluded, there wasn’t this level of sympathy for Bojack that fans feel for Joe. And Bojack hasn’t even killed anyone (at least not directly)!

The biggest difference is in perspective.

In “You,” Joe’s voice is front-and-center. In fact, that’s one of the main features of the show’s premise. It’s a serial killer story from the serial killer’s POV. It’s an interesting premise in theory, but it becomes problematic in practice.

In my opinion, the most powerful episode in season four was one in which one of Joe’s victims narrates. This is because you get to see Joe’s actions more objectively. Seeing Joe kidnap someone and hold them captive without all the “Whoopsie, how am I going to save her from myself?” inner dialogue shows you how terrifying the situation is.

This perspective is necessary to keep the audience clear on who the villain truly is. Though Bojack Horseman is the protagonist of his show, you regularly get episodes from different characters’ perspectives. This lets you see the fallout of Bojack’s actions.

Another troubling aspect of “You” is that Joe constantly finds himself in situations where he’s not the worst person in the room. This way, you think people deserve it when Joe kills them. And even when Joe kills someone innocent, you don’t mind as much because, in the grand scheme of things, most of the people he killed deserved it. 

In season four, nearly all the side characters were comically evil. Sure, people like them probably exist in the world. But the odds of Joe being with so many horrible people in the span of a few years are very low.

Not every “Bojack” character is perfect. In fact, many say and do bad things. But you get enough nuance and context that you’re not immediately ready to hate them or justify how Bojack screws them over.

If you’re making everyone else around your protagonist look bad to make the protagonist look less like a monster, you’re doing something wrong.

I think the writers of “You” should trust their audience enough to believe they’ll still watch the show even if they don’t like Joe. It looks like this is where they’ll be going in season five. But I wish they’d thought of it before they got to the point where regular people excuse a serial killer’s actions and victim-blame the people he hurt.

Despite these issues, I’ll continue to watch “You” if it’s renewed again. I just hope I didn’t waste my time with it. And that judgment will come down to this: comeuppance. 

The show needs to do what “Bojack” did and give Joe a punishment that fits his crimes. It would also benefit a lot from giving his surviving victims more of a voice. “You,” though ridiculous, could ultimately teach a powerful lesson about the dangers of sympathizing with people like Joe. The writers just have to lean into everything horrible he’s done and not excuse those actions.

If they don’t do this, it will just show people will justify anything as long as the perpetrator is hot and white. Does every real-life criminal get an adequate punishment? No. But our media should model the accountability we want to see in real life. “Bojack” knocked that out of the park. I hope “You” follows suit.

Feature Image from Netflix’s You


  1. The Importance of Electrical Maintenance for a Safe and Reliable Home
    Behind every modern home lies a complex system of electrical energy that requires constant monitoring and care. Without proper maintenance and inspection, electrical systems can become unsafe and unreliable. Annual home electrical inspections can identify potential issues before they become major problems, ensuring that your home is safe and secure. Don’t wait for a problem to arise, take action today to protect your home and loved ones.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.