First aired in 2006, hit American television series Dexter follows psychopath Dexter Morgan (Michael C Hall) a serial killer of serial killers who must cover his killing trail while working as a blood spatter analysis for a Miami police department. Contrasting, You first aired in 2018 and is a popular Lifetime series which follows Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) on his obsessive quest for love turned stalker. From the descriptions you wouldn’t think these shows have much in common, but after watching just the first season of each, you’ll realize that these two shows were designed almost identically.
1) Perspective and Voice Over
Starting with the obvious, Joe (left) and Dexter (right) are young, white men with dark secrets. These shows both have the tricky job of convincing the audience to side with the criminal, even after we watch them perform heinous acts of everything from breaking and entering, assault and finally – murder! These shows allow us to understand the twisted views of our protagonist through voice over and point of view. Voice over allows us to hear both Joe and Dexter’s thoughts the moment they pop into their head. For example, when Joe is stalking Beck, who he presumes is the love of his life, he tracks her to her home. Standing outside her apartment, Joe has full view of Beck doing everything from changing to having sex and thinks “Jesus, it’s like you’ve never seen a horror movie. Or the news.” Now, even though Joe is stalking Beck, we are immediately aligned with him due to his humorous and protective nature. Similarly, when Dexter introduces us to his girlfriend, Rita, he thinks “Rita’s ex hubby: crack addict who repeatedly raped her.” And then goes on to explain how he is just fine without having sex and once again we feel like our protagonist is protective and ‘harmless’. Furthermore, quite often the camera switches from an omnipotent point of view, to actually seeing through our protagonists eyes, this allows the audience to feel like they are the character, and are making the decisions with them (A perspective frequently used in video games).
2) Girl Next Door
Now, not only are both our protagonists strong, white men, but both have a love interest that fit somewhere in the “girl-next-door” meets “weak battered woman” category. As I mentioned before, Rita (Right played by Julie Benz) was married to crack addict husband who repeatedly beat and raped her and now that she found Dexter, she thinks she’s the luckiest woman in the world. Similarly Beck (Left played by Elizabeth Lail) is used to dating guys that constantly mistreat and cheat on her and thinks that Joe might actually be ‘the one’. Within the first couple episodes we see both these women crying and fragile and both these men completely lacking physical displays of emotion. Could this be more archetypal?
3) The Ex
Say hello to the douche-bag ex boyfriends Benji (left played by Lou Taylor Pucci) and Paul (right played by Mark Ross Pellegrino). Douche-bag, white guy who can’t stay away from the girl seems to be the only character traits these men bring to the shows. Both Dexter and Joe quickly realize that their ‘girlfriend’s’ ex boyfriend is in the way of her safety and happiness, and take the disposal of the ex into their own hands. Both characters bludgeon the ex over the head (Dexter with a pan and Joe with a mallet) and then hide the body. Surprisingly, serial killer Dexter just ensures that Rita’s ex, Paul ends up back in jail, while Joe, who merely started out as a stalker, imprisons and kills Beck’s ex, Benji.
4) Daddy Issues
That’s right, daddy-issues is yet another trait harboured by both Dexter and Joe. Flashbacks are used to show Dexter’s relationship with his adoptee father Harry, who guided him through his urges to kill. Although Harry was a tough Police Officer, he always had Dexter’s best interests in mind and shaped the morals the young boy carried into adult hood. Now seeing Dexter as an adult as he slowly unravels the web of lies Harry created about his past, Dexter starts to question his killing addiction and everything Harry ever taught him. You also uses flashbacks to show young Joe’s relationship with the bookstore owner who taught him how to take care of old books. Like in Dexter, this man was hard on Joe and shaped his love of books which Joe then passes down to the next generation, which leads me to my next point-
Joe (top left) and Dexter (bottom left) are constantly being transported back into their childhood memories where the audience gets a glimpse at how our protagonists came to be. Now, living in the present, we also get a chance to see how Joe and Dexter treat the new generation of kids. This is where the characters become their most ‘normal’ self. When Dexter is around Rita’s children (bottom right), we see him as playful, inspiring and protective. This is the one time where his personality doesn’t feel like a rouse to fit in with society, but instead we see him genuinely connecting. This is also seen with Joe who takes a a brow-beaten Paco under his wing and teaches him how to properly care-for and repair books. In these moments Joe isn’t thinking about his obsessive tendencies towards Beck, but instead is able to solely focus on a real relationship built from trust and common interest.
6) I know you’re hiding something
Let’s take a look at our token coloured characters: AKA the antagonist. Both shows create constant tension by having a character who is immediately weirded-out and suspicious of the protagonist. For Joe, that person is Peach (left played by Shay Mitchell). Peach is Beck’s best friend, financial-aid, and the one person who continuously tells her to stay away from Joe. Peach first notices something is off about Joe when one of her books disappears from her house after a house-party, and who is most likely to take it? Probably the book fanatic. For Dexter, his biggest worry if Officer Doakes (right played by Erik King) who does everything from following Dexter late at night, to breaking into Dexter’s house. Doakes is so bent on revealing that Dexter is hiding something that he’s willing to risk his own career to prove it. Now that’s a worthy antagonist.
7) Let’s talk about the Differences
As similar in structure, characters and filming choices that these shows may be, they do have vast and apparent differences. For instance, You is all about love as we embark on a stalker’s journey to find his soul-mate. This show asks the question of what a healthy relationship looks like and how far we should go to get the person of our dreams? Is Beck safer around Joe or is he the worst thing that ever happened to her? Dexter, on the other hand, is about the murdering of serial killers and follows the eye for and eye dilemma. Dexter asks the audience who deserves to die. Should killers be killed? Is the answer is yes, then should Dexter be killed too?
Overall, many of the formulaic tricks that make Dexter and You so similar is also what makes them good shows. It would be really hard to sympathize with either of these men if we couldn’t hear their thoughts or see the world through their perspective. Important changes that will hopefully arise in television series to come, is more diverse casting, especially when it comes to our protagonists and their love interest.