Netflix’s tragicomedy romance, The End of the F***ing World, is nothing short of extraordinary.
The first time I recommended The End of the F***ing World to someone they were put off by the title. Concerned that any show that must swear or speak of the apocalypse in the immediate was distastefully trying too hard. Let me reassure you: this is not another post-apocalypse show. Nor is there an abundance of cursing in it. There is, however, a lot of trying though. But mostly it’s trying to fit in…
Adapted from the similarly titled indie comic by Charles Forsman, The End of the F***ing World is the story about Alyssa and James, two mentally deranged teenagers from the Southern England suburbs, running away together Bonnie and Clyde style. Alyssa wants to get away from her heartless bitch of a mother and perverted stepfather. James joins along to finally pursue his lifelong dream of murdering a living breathing human being. In this case, Alyssa.
If this premise disturbs you, The End of the F***ing World may not be for you. Though rest assured, the tone of the show is often more playful than dreadful. More Wes Anderson than Wes Craven. Even though the two leave behind a path of mayhem and crime in their wake, it’s done out of youthful malcontent rather than maliciousness. Alyssa’s rebelliousness, a way of proving that she’s above the rules. That she’s an adult. That she doesn’t need the attention though she desperately craves it. Meanwhile, James comes along with her in order to get closer to his victim. After a lifetime of murdering animals and having a self-proclaimed lack of emotions, he’s decided to finally become the psychopath he believes he’s destined to be. But is he getting closer to Alyssa to murder her or is he getting closer because he’s starting to feel something? Emotions James thought to be long distant, resurfacing because of a girl he can’t seem to stop thinking about.
And we get that literally from just the first few minutes of the series. It’s a funny and sweet tale told in an awkward demeanor and set in a very dark world. Well executed for an 8-episode miniseries set at a 22 minute run time a piece.
Adapting the Story
The script adaptation by Charlie Covell is fantastic. Universally acclaimed by critics as some of the best writing in television. Which is not an easy feat, given the excess material she’d cut and changed from the comics.
For one, the original story takes place in the American Midwest over a series of months whereas the TV show, is set in Southern England and takes place over a handful of days. And though the settings are similar enough: rural and roadside with lots of scenic shots of the country; adapting to the cultures is never an easy transition. There’s even a nod to this in the first episode, as the Diner Alyssa and James attend to is American Themed.
Though probably the biggest shift from comic to screen is in its moral viewpoints. While the TV show touches on various adult-themed subjects (which I won’t list due to spoilers but take it from me, it’s really dark), much of it stems from the natural world itself. That life on the run and outside of home is filled with very evil and exploitive individuals. The world itself is bad, per se.
In contrast, the comics have much of these same conflicts stem from a villainous organization identified as a murderous cult. One whose influences permeate not only some of the shadier characters met in the series but also some of the police force that are hunting for James and Alyssa. Thus, the world isn’t necessarily bad, but this cult sure is.
The reason I separate the two is because this is what the TV show does a fantastic job at: characterizations. It’s the selling point of the series. James and Alyssa are cringeworthy and selfish characters. Whose apathetic British deadpan is met by sly inner monologues about how and why they’re better than their world at large. Yet, as the series unfolds, we see endearing acts of both passion and compassion. Characters that behave with depth because even though they might not act with the best intentions, it’s still better than the evils of their world itself. All this moral ambiguity makes the series unpredictable. And thus, exciting.
Atop that we get excellent acting performances all-around. James (Played by Alex Lawther from Black Mirror) and Alyssa (Played by Jessica Barden from Penny Dreadful) have such contrasting energy on screen and it pulls in the viewer like magnetism. Where we’re never entirely sure what they’ll do next. Atop that, officers Eunice (Played by Gemma Whelan from Game of Thrones) and Teri (Played by Wunmi Mosaku, BAFTA winner from Daimilola, Our Loved Boy) do a uniquely comedic yet emotional take on the investigator roles. One that’s equally intimate as it is conflicting, much like our main protagonists. The portrayal of the parents is also very exceptional and provoking, yet I must omit details for spoilers sake. Suffice to say, the actors did a very fine job.
Likewise, the writing progresses and slowly puts actions into context. Granting justifiable reasons as to how and why James and Alyssa ended up this way. With a few flashbacks and some side stories, we see layered depictions along the way: of incredibly flawed parental figures, traumatic beginnings, failed attempts at intimacy and silly unadulterated mistakes. Sometimes comedic. Sometimes sad. Yet the series doesn’t necessarily condemn nor condone. It just showcases that life is… complicated.
As such, we root for these incredibly flawed protagonists. Find joy in their awkward moments of discovery. About who they are and what they mean to each other. As the two overcome their woes by working together in a very two against the world sort of mantra.
It would be a sin to talk about The End of the F***ing World without mentioning the soundtrack. It’s perfect. For the setting of the show and the sense of young awkward romance. A mix of 1950s and 1960’s teeny-bop and do-wop, series showrunner Jonathan Entwistle collaborated with comic creator Charles Forsman on creating a large playlist for the series that would perfectly encompass the tone of the series. Atop of that, Entwistle had convinced Graham Coxon, the lead guitarist of the band Blur, to help with some of the in-between scores. The result is one of the greatest utilizations of music in a series on par with something from Quentin Tarantino. Best yet, scores accompany not only credits and transitions, but do a fantastic job playing in line with the pacing. There is a surprisingly large amount of moments to breathe in these 22 minutes episodes. Many of which, are covered with beautifully haunting establishing shots over the songs. By far, one of the best mixes of audiovisual sensation.
The End of the F***ing World is an adult show featuring teenagers. A stylistic doo-wop about a wanton girl meeting sociopathic boy, set in southern England. The show seems dark, but so is navigating through adolescence. It is in this naivete, this fallacy of youthful certainty, where the heart of this story takes place. Alyssa and James are both incredibly self-aware yet broken people. They see themselves as outcasts in a world that’s in pieces because they both had lost pieces of themselves at an early age. Their actions and credence: that the world is a messed-up place, that mom and dad are to blame, it leads them on this disturbing journey of self-discovery and self-fulfilling prophecy. And while they can’t see it: how their worlds and childhood innocence are essentially ending. We the audience do. And that’s the beauty of it.
It’s The End of the F***ing World.