Hold onto your hats, The End of the F***ing World is a buzzed-about British dark comedy/teen drama/coming-of-age tale based on Charles S. Forsman’s comic series of the name. Created by relative newcomer Jonathan Entwistle, the series aired in the UK in October 2017 and was then picked up by Netflix and released internationally in January 2018. Due to its darkened subject matter, strong leads and kooky ways, critics and viewers alike have thus far received the show very warmly.
The series focuses its lens upon James (Alex Lawther, The Imitation Game) and Alyssa (Jessica Barden, Penny Dreadful) – two social misfits whose churning, isolated orbits collide in major and irreversible ways. James is a hollowed-out loner who believes himself to be a psychopath, with killing animals his primary hobby and carrying a knife his security blanket. Alyssa is a rebel, in the most cliché and wince-laden of ways (though since this is an intentional slant by the show, it’s not a criticism, just a note this writer’s made in a “oh I remember thinking things like that as an equally cringe-worthy 17-year old” kind of way), and she fixates upon James’ distant, awkward existence as a means to her escaping the mundanity and sadness that consumes her daily life.
James quickly decides that he wishes to kill Alyssa, and he goes along with her master plan of running away from their parents in a bid for freedom. Knife packed into his sock, James steals his dad’s car and he and Alyssa take a road trip to nowhere and do not look back. As they spend more time with one another, James is forced to confront the jarring matter of Alyssa triggering his emotions, something foreign to him. Try as he might, and knife at the ready, he can’t help but like Alyssa, and this inner conflict churns away at him whilst Alyssa rants and raves in her young and immature, though nonetheless rather admirable, ways.
The show borrows from the superb British comedy Peep Show in that it gives the viewer a direct dialogue with the innermost thoughts of the two mains. As is often the case in reality, what people say and what they feel and think are often at odds, and this insight – albeit a bit of an easy trick – allows the story to develop in line with its comic book roots, ensuring that the viewer stays on the rails during the, at times, jerky and flighty ambitions of the storyline.
One critique I have of the show is the fact it treads no new terrain, particularly in its developments of James as an individual with psychopathic tendencies. The whole Dexter angle of constantly reminding the viewer how little he feels or how he’s empty inside does become tiresome and cloying, and the show occasionally loses itself up its own backside when it overreaches for “cute” and “dark” plays.
The apparent fascination society has with psychopathy means that there are now plenty of shows that look into this subject (Hannibal is but one other such show in recent history that was highly engaging, but totally excessive when playing its “edgy” cards), leaving many commonalities and repetitions to be found in The End’s depiction of its young disturbed mind. The show, unfortunately, falls down a peg or two as it re-treads and regurgitates the same old dialogue and reinforces its “how interesting and messed up is this?” type of subject matter. The show is far and away at its best when it presents the leads as vulnerable, neurotic kids yearning to find out who they really are within a world that has oft-times betrayed or ignored them.
Nevertheless, The End of the F***ing World is quite enjoyable, holding more than enough humour, insight and off-centre observations to keep the viewer hooked. And with an average run time of around 20 minutes, and with just an eight-episode run, this show can easily be marathoned in a single lazy afternoon.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10