“People can’t be answers. They’re just more questions.”
Those words are just some of the many that define the achingly raw undercurrent flowing through Netflix’s newest exclusive comedy series.
Based on Charles Forsman’s graphic novel of the same name, The End of the F***ing World follows “a budding teen psychopath and a rebel hungry for adventure” – as the Netflix blurb describes them – as they run away from home and search for freedom. The rebel, Alyssa (Jessica Barden), only wants to escape the life she feels is suffocating her. Alex Lawther’s James, however, sees things differently – he thinks Alyssa would make the perfect murder victim.
Along the way, the two of them encounter some very real obstacles, and eventually their freedom run becomes a run for their lives – a run to the very end of the f***ing world.
The swear word-laced title and Netflix blurb for this series promise exactly what’s in the box – a short, sweet series filled with insane, dark antics, and lots and lots of swearing. Multiple cars are stolen, houses get broken into, and each episode is just under twenty-two minutes (with some being as short as eighteen), so the entire crazy story gets told in just under three hours’ time. And boy, is it a ride.
Now, a teenage psychopath and an over-feeling delinquent may seem like characters that would be difficult to connect with, but Lawther and Barden hold up the show quite well as Alyssa and James. They feel like real teenagers – at one point, Alyssa says, “I’m gonna be so f**ked off if we get murdered,” which sounds like something every teenager has said before doing something stupid. Their connection is endearingly bizarre, and the situations they find themselves in – and their reactions to them – reminds the audience that they are truly teenagers just trying to find someone in the world who will love them without asking them to change. Other, slightly familiar faces pop up – including Sherlock’s Jonathan Aris and Game of Thrones’ Gemma Whelan – but viewers are enticed by the story of Alyssa and James, growing more and more attached to each other as their journey continues.
This complex journey also allows the show to tackle very real issues – sexual assault, consent, and parental abandonment among them – in the context of its bizarre story, bringing them to the forefront and perfectly lacing them into the plot while still maintaining its darkly comic façade. If anything, it’s closer to American Psycho than Heathers, embracing the darkness of its content while still playing upbeat rock music softly in the background. Imagine if Dudley Moore and Peter Cook had collaborated with Quentin Tarantino, and you get this show.
In addition, the show’s aesthetic is uniquely gorgeous. Flashbacks are shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio with a muted color palette, and the world that director Jonathan Entwistle builds is one that, while set in England, feels uniquely American and very real. This is not the fantasy world where teenagers can do terrible things and escape without even the slightest scathing consequence. This is a world of blood, tears, and feeling, and it shows on the screen.
All in all, the show sticks out amongst its brothers and sisters in contemporary British television. It hangs in the space between light and dark, between serious and funny – a place where most teenagers find themselves at one point or another.
So, if you’re missing The Misfits but want something less unsettling than Black Mirror, give The End of the F***ing World a go. It’s worth it.
The End of the F***ing World is now streaming on Netflix.