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What to watch: Cutting-edge 'You' and other dark twists on romance

Joe Goldberg is a charming, sensitive and soulful bookstore manager — perfect for many a single woman. There’s just one problem: he’s also paranoid, obsessive and violent. If you’ve ever pondered the thin line between romantic interest and criminal fixation, then watch “You” cross it over and over again.

The Netflix series stars Penn Badgley as Joe, a Brooklyn bookstore manager who falls instantly in love with Guinevere Beck, a graduate student and aspiring writer. After insinuating himself into and ruining Beck’s life, Joe moves to Los Angeles, to escape his dark past. Joe becomes obsessed with Love Quinn, a rich young woman obsessed with baking and her co-dependent twin, Forty.

Why it’s worth watching: Featuring a charming and chilling antihero, “You” produces terrifyingly funny satire by brilliantly exploiting the conventions of rom-coms. Though it began quietly on Lifetime, this cutting-edge series exploded as shocked audiences began bingeing it on Netflix in December 2018. The show is built around Badgley’s creepy magnetism as Joe. Badgley’s thoughtful eyes and ability to make others feel he is listening to them make him believable, both as a romantic interest and as someone people trust.

Badgley’s voice-over narrative charms us, as well. Hearing his thoughts forces us to sympathize with him, even as his inner demons drive him to acts of stalking and violence. Haunted by memories of a former mentor, a girlfriend whom he harmed and his negligent mother, Joe seems both relatably human and disturbingly monstrous. Elizabeth Lail is mesmerizing as Guinevere Beck, filling the first season with a vibrant positive energy that makes the horrifying plot all the more unsettling. Lail’s joyful embodiment of the conventional rom-com romantic interest helped make this show. Shay Mitchell is perfectly irritating as Beck’s friend Peach Salinger, whose own obsessiveness helps her spot the monster behind Joe’s carefully crafted facade.

“You” shifts radically in tone as Joe leaves his bookish Brooklyn for a sunny Los Angeles filled with self-care, celebrity-worship and endless movie pitches. As Joe’s latest obsession, Victoria Pedretti wonderfully conveys Love’s emotional turmoil, while James Scully expertly portrays unhinged privilege and self-obsessed neediness as Forty. Carmela Zumbado is excellent as Delilah Alves, an investigative reporter who manages Joe’s building, while Jenna Ortega impresses as her tough-talking, film-obsessed sister Ellie. “You” uses graphics that are especially ominous in our #MeToo era: we regularly see shots of Joe’s smartphone activity, revealing how easily social networks and search engines help him stalk and harass his victims.

Also to consider

“Fleabag” (Amazon Prime). If you are intrigued by the dark twist on modern romance in “You,” then travel to London to follow the misadventures of “Fleabag.” Created, written and starring the phenomenal Phoebe Waller-Bridge, “Fleabag” follows its never-named character through her tragic and hilarious efforts to find love and meaning as a single business owner. Like “You,” “Fleabag” regularly breaks the fourth wall, as Fleabag makes us viscerally feel the bite of such twisted occurrences as her awkward sexual encounters and her deeply dysfunctional family relationships. Waller-Bridge is brilliant, but so are Olivia Colman as Fleabag’s self-obsessed godmother, Brent Gelman as Fleabag’s unspeakably rude brother-in-law and Andrew Scott as the charming priest with whom Fleabag is unhealthily obsessed.

“Picnic at Hanging Rock” (Amazon Prime). If you are drawn to the dark eroticism of “You,” then travel to the Australian “Picnic at Hanging Rock.” This 2018 miniseries reimagines Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel about the mysterious disappearance of several girls and a teacher during a Valentine’s Day field trip to a volcanic rock mountain. Boldly replacing the original’s aged headmistress with a younger Mrs. Appleyard (whose paranoia and cruelty is deftly portrayed by Natalie Dormer), the series explores the dangers of subjecting young women to class elitism and sexual repression. Lily Sullivan shines as the ethereal wild girl Miranda Reid, Madeleine Madden is excellent as the whip-smart Marion Quade and Inez Currõ provides a heartbreaking performance as Sara Waybourne, whose poetic soul dooms her to suffer in an austere world.

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