The first great TV show of 2018: Meet Netflix’s “The End of the F*king World”
WORDS: Alex Welch
We’re just over one full week into the new year, and already, Netflix has delivered US audiences with one crazy memorable, balls-to-the-wall TV experience. Although, to UK audiences, the show in question, aptly titled The End of the Fking World,* will probably be old news by now. Similar to some of Netflix’s other international pickups, End of the Fking World* premiered on the UK’s All 4 in October of last year, to major critical success, but unfortunately little more than that.
Luckily, Netflix’s ownership of this 8-part series might just be its saving grace, and it’s hard to think of a show in recent memory more deserving of a second chance than The End of the F*king World.
Based on Charles Forsman’s acclaimed graphic novel of the same name – which has been adapted for the TV format by Jonathan Entwistle – the series follows James (Alex Lawther) and Alyssa (Jessica Barden), two 17-year-olds stuck in a small town they hate with family members they hate even more. For James that hatred of his oblivious father – along with being witness to a heartbreaking tragedy at a young age – has led him towards increasingly more psychopathic tendencies, including sticking his hand in a deep fat fryer just so he could “feel things” and killing some of his neighbors small animals.
But just when he’s decided to graduate from killing small animals to humans, he meets Alyssa, a girl whose intense emotions control her every action and feels rightfully abandoned by her mother, who has turned her attention more towards her newborn twins and Alyssa’s creepy stepfather. To James, Alyssa seems like the prime candidate for his first kill, and to Alyssa, James seems like a boy she “could fall in love with,” but who more importantly, has access to a car that could get her the hell out of her town.
As with any great romantic comedy, their attraction for each other ebbs and flows throughout the show’s tightly-paced, 22-minute episodes, growing in its intensity with each new installment, even if it sometimes shows itself in diabolical or even hurtful ways. And as the two find themselves at the center of some increasingly criminal and violent situations, they eventually go on the run from some law enforcement officials that are hot on their trail. So in case the show’s You’re the Worst or Edgar Wright-style influences weren’t already enough, it’s later addition of a True Romance-esque plot just adds a whole other dynamic and momentum to it, that never feels contrived or recycled, but rather, entirely honest for this show’s story and its two troubled love birds.
It’s by no means a completely perfect 8-episodes of television, and even despite the show’s wisely short length per episode, it does drag somewhat in its third and fifth episodes. Fortunately, those stretches are still made entertaining by Lawther and Barden’s performances, accompanied by the show’s precise visual style and editing choices.
To its credit as well, The End of the F*king World ends up feeling more like a coming-of-age story than it does anything else, as it tactfully shows how both James and Alyssa help each other come to terms with the existential dread they feel about growing up.
Where their twin narrations could have come off as too cutesy, James and Alyssa’s internal observations about each other and their situation, instead, provide the series with some of its biggest laughs, and can even more effectively, offer up some quick bursts of poetic, emotional insight into how the two feel about each other throughout their troublesome journey together. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that both Lawther and Barden manage to infuse their characters with the correct level of insanity and heartache at all times, and even more impressively, are able to calibrate their performances to fit James and Alyssa’s frequent, complicated emotional shifts, which can and do come at any given moment.
Because like all good on-the-run romances, James and Alyssa are two very broken people when we meet them in the show’s first episode, but you get the feeling that by the time everything is said and done, they’ve each made each other just a little less so. And when the moment does come, where we see just how much they’ve both been changed by their time together, the show had me on the brink of tears.
But in the end, the biggest compliment I can give The End of the F*king World, is that when I finished watching it this past weekend, I felt instantly ready to just watch it all over again. And I did. I don’t know if there will be a second season of the show. I don’t know if there needs to be either, based solely on the pitch-perfect quality of its final moments. Unlike some of Netflix’s other series, however, if James and Alyssa do indeed return to our TV screens sometime down the line – I will be more than happy to jump back into the car with them again, ready for whatever adventures are in store.
SCORE: 4.25 out of 5