The End of the F***ing World is a perfect Netflix binge and, in all likelihood, an unbearable standard television experience. Between its punk title and an opening few minutes that reference child self-mutilation, animal killing, psychopathy and murder, this show starts out by weeding out the weak. It is a dark compelling journey of self-discovery and adolescent confusion.
Based on the comic book series by Charles Forsman, the British dramedy follows teen outsiders James and Alyssa as they embark on a road trip to find Alyssa’s father, with Alyssa unaware that James plans to kill her. If that synopsis or the title didn’t make it clear enough, The End of the F***ing World is a very dark show, but more in the sense of pitch black humor rather than anything particularly nasty or graphic, although the fourth episode did consist of a fair amount of blood.
Just as the spikiest people can be the most vulnerable, this show’s aggressive nihilism conceals a gentle and romantic center. Its eight episodes are essentially the story of two young people damaged by abandonment who find temporary solace in each other. With a bit of murder.
Alyssa (played by Jessica Barden) is luminously good- funny, aggressive, heart breaking whereas James (Alex Lawther) is a combination of dangerous and sympathetic so convincing its like an optical illusion. One minute, James seems irrevocably damaged, then he’s a child in pain. It’s a transformation both leads are able to pull off, and it gives this darkly comic story real emotional weight.
The poignant side is neatly handled, maintaining its cool tone and never threatening to turn into mawkishness. Sentimentality is repeatedly undercut with a gag. The adolescent voice also open the door to expression that seems guileless but is satisfying and meaningful.
Sometimes you realize you’ve had a thing keeping you going that might have been a lie the whole time, it’s like you swallowed a stone, but, not recently. You swallowed it years ago.
As well as the script, the characterization is worthy of praise. James and Alyssa’s depth and progression announce themselves gently through their gruesome adventure. At a crucial point, Alyssa’s abrasive persona merges with her internal voice – ‘I’m really scared’ she says both in her head and out loud, a significant change from what she comically thought and said in the early episodes.
Sometimes, everything is suddenly really simple. It’s like everything shifts in a moment, and you step out of your body, out of your life. You step out and you see where you are clearly, and you think… Fuck. This. Shit.
As we learn more about their family back stories, the sensitivity in both characters shines through their hardened facades. Even the minor characters have an important role to play. Alyssa’s mother appears for just a few minutes but her scenes carry a sense of conflict and history, as does James’s dad’s cheerful/tragic role. The role of Clive Koch’s mother has its own charm for being a mother who makes an obnoxious discovery about her son has a whole conflict based progression despite having only a handful of lines. The overall sense is of forward propulsion, with all elements moving towards the end, and no story telling slack in sight.
Most of all though, it’s the music that carries the those references through. From dreamlike fifties love songs to crooning country –Lonesome Town, used in Pulp Fiction, makes one appearance- the songs transport it over the Atlantic and back in time.
All the episodes run for less than 22 minutes, for a perfect binge watching experience. The End of the F***ing World, as a TV series, it’s a great watch. It’s twisted and hilarious, and maybe a little bit referential but has plenty of its own to add. It’s outstanding, acerbic and definitely worth watching.