I panicked when The End Of The F***ing World finished. How the hell am I going to recommend this show if I can’t explain what it’s about? Worries aside, it’s a good problem to have. Shows that leave me uttering nonsense when trying to think of a synopsis are a rarity. TV loves formula: cop show, doctor show, CW show where dudes take off their shirts. Even expensive, prestige dramas from the likes of HBO have a repetitive streak, but seldom leave you gobsmacked. The End Of The F***ing World is a rush of originality that portrays teenage angst with the pitch black darkness of those gloomy hormonal years.
Based on the comic book series by Charles S. Forsman, The End Of The F***ing World centres on James (Alex Lawther), a teenager who believes he’s a psychopath and is planning to kill a person – stay with me. When James meets the rebellious Alyssa (Jessica Barden), he decides she’ll be his first victim, but Alyssa sees James as a chance to escape her home life. The duo go on a road trip together where they bounce from situations that rapidly go from bad to worse.
We’re used to moody representations of teenagers on TV, but those depictions are signified by pouts, scowls and sarcastic comments. Dramas from the 1990s like Beverly Hills 90210, all the way up to the The O.C and Gossip Girl, gave us twenty-something actors passing as teenagers in a glossy world of melodrama. These shows excelled at presenting a teenage fantasy of privilege that thrived on ‘OMG’ moments and perfectly fed off the way teens sniff out drama. If you want to get closer to earth there’s My So Called Life, Freaks And Geeks and Friday Night Lights. If you want to turn out all the lights, cradle a knife and crank The Cure, there’s The End Of The F***ing World. The show takes the platform of young love on the run in True Romance and blends it with the dry, austere sensibility of a Yorgos Lanthimos film (The Lobster, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer).
The first time James and Alyssa meet they tell each other to ‘fuck off’. Their first encounter sets the tone for a tumultuous relationship, while avoiding the saccharine ‘boy meets girl’ scenario. The End of the F***king World never wavers from its abrasive take on adolescence. James claims he can’t feel anything while Alyssa is an expert at self-destruction. They are misfits of their own creation, but dedicated to getting what they want. The show taps into the sociopathic nature of teenagers and isn’t ashamed to do a jig in the selfish pride that enables James and Alyssa to make horrific decisions.
There’s a cycle of mistakes in The End Of The F***ing World and the personal anguish of James and Alyssa is tied to tragic moments at their hands of their parents. The adult characters make questionable choices with little regard to the wellbeing of others – even the police are narcissistic – and you get a sense of how trauma manifests itself from parent to child.
Yet, James and Alyssa are drawn together more than their propellant personalities and turbulent backstories suggest. The more Alyssa agitates James, the closer he feels to her. The circumstance of their meeting is grotesque but fortuitous. By the end of eight sharp episodes you understand why these two decide to stay together. When it comes to romance, we think too much about boxes of chocolates and roses, and less about the way a partner can simply level out the worst parts of ourselves. Being in love isn’t about similarities, it’s about differences and how each side balances out the other to form a whole.
Being in love isn’t about similarities, it’s about differences and how each side balances out the other to form a whole.
If this all sounds relentlessly bleak, it is, but light gets in when the show isn’t painting the world pitch black. One scene shows James and Alyssa walking through a forest as beams of light fight their way through the thick canopy of trees surrounding them. Darkness is dominant in The End Of The F***ing World, but the sweetness trickles through, and it becomes crucial to the way the pair bond. Directors Jonathan Entwistle (the show’s creator) and Lucy Tcherniak have an incredible eye for how to position their lead characters against a world threatening to consume them.
And we’ve all had that feeling – whether you’re a teenager now or those years are way behind you – of wanting the world to swallow you whole to end the misery. And the world will oblige in those wishes if you let it wear you down, but it’s the people who make us think greater than ourselves for the sake of others that makes it worth sticking around. James and Alyssa 4 Eva.