It doesn’t take long to ascertain what the British series The End of the F***ing World (readily available to stream through Netflix) is aspiring to be. Just from its NSFW (albeit censored) title, one can judge that the show already has a bit of a punk gene to it. From the opening scene where protagonist James talks about his propensity to become a serial killer, it’s clear that viewers are in for something that’s nothing less than misanthropic. It’s a pitch-black comedy for sure, but it’s also light-hearted, breezy, and fully romantic. Also, despite its television-based episodic structure, it feels more like cinema and should really strike a chord with people that have been anxious for a pulpy road trip.
Based on a comic book by Charles S. Forman, The End of the F***ing World definitely has a setup that reflects the inherent pent-up nihilism of being a suburban teenager. Seventeen-year-old James (Alex Lawther) is a budding psychopath who spends his free time killing small animals, ultimately desiring to kill a human eventually. Almost as disturbed is his schoolmate Alyssa (Jessica Barden), an even younger girl who detests the banality of her locale and comes off as a nymphomaniac to her peers (despite being a virgin). The two end up forming a relationship; Alyssa is drawn to James’s darkness, while James primarily sees Alyssa as a potential first victim. Fed up with her restricting family, Alyssa pressures James into stealing his father’s car, and they go on a road trip with nary a set destination.
Keep in mind that this all happens in the pilot, which isn’t even 20-minutes long. Over the course of The End of the F***ing World’s eight episodes, the writers and filmmakers certainly cram a lot of storyline into it. There’s plenty of character development too, including a few crucial scenes that shed light on possible reasons for why James and Alyssa are as fucked up as they are.
The pint-sized lovers do indeed see their unstable conditions leading them to some shocking situations, but the writers are also aware that they are human, and they never allow them to lose their sympathetic qualities. There are quite a few grimy characters the two run into (a pedophile, a rapist), which helps the viewer acknowledge that James and Alyssa are angels compared to the adult characters who seem to have made their bed a long time ago.
The End of the F***king World definitely has strong writing, but it’s even more impressive from an aesthetic viewpoint. All eight episodes carry a cinematic quality to them, and despite its UK setting, the style often recalls American indie films from the ‘90s (think Tarantino meets Larry Clark, almost). While supposedly portraying a contemporary setting, there’s also something decidedly timeless about the show’s look. There’s hardly any use of technology in the film (even cell phones), and the décor seems closer to the 1970s than the 21st century as James and Alyssa sprawl a world that seems to be painted a rather antiquated brown. The lighting also aids this vision (similar to Riverdale) and gives the show a look that recalls the artwork of a comic book, albeit a much grittier one.
Following suit, James and Alyssa hardly seem like millennials, as they tend to use practicality to address their problems rather than technological aid. They also seem to prefer music that came out way before they were born (the impressive score features an eclectic mix of songs from the likes of Hank Williams, The Buzzcocks, and Mazzy Star). Actors Alex Lawther and Jessica Bardem are both in their 20s, but they still play their teenaged roles with an all-too-necessary mix of charm and stoicism. They have resounding chemistry too; they might make for the most dynamic young couple since Sam and Suzy in Moonrise Kingdom.
The only frustration with watching The End of the F***ing World lies with this question: Will there be more? It hasn’t been picked up for a second series yet, despite its distressingly open-ended finale. Still, given the strong ratings and critical acclaim, it’s likely that we will be seeing James and Alyssa again.
Even if a second season doesn’t emerge, The End of the F***ing World exists as a rather digestible and satisfying whole. In several ways, it’s what Natural Born Killers should have been.
Peter Foy is an avid reader and movie buff, constantly in need to engage his already massive pop-culture lexicon.