Based on the graphic novel of the same name, The End of the F***ing World feels like a Wes Anderson film set in the backwaters of Britain. James (Alex Lawther) is like every other teenager careering towards their 18th birthday. He wants to do something different, he wants to escape being stifled by his father, he wants to kill someone. You know, the usual stuff. Alyssa (Jessica Barden) is spitting fire at the world. She hates her step-dad, she hates school and she’d probably hate James too, but he appears to be nerdy and aloof.
Over the course of eight criminally short episodes, Charlie Covell’s script uses James desire to kill Alex as a springboard into a deeper exploration of growing up, mental illness, and the ache of being dragged kicking into adulthood. Deciding to find her real dad, James and Alyssa decide to run away together, where they soon kill a serial rapist and find themselves on the run from the police.
In some ways, the show is like the reverse of Park Chan-Wook’s Stoker. There we saw troubled teen India realise that she can’t escape the dark feelings that course through her veins, before eventually embracing her desire to kill. James’ homicidal tendencies, as with Alyssa’s rebellious attitude, is revealed to be nothing more than a front. They’re both simply using mechanisms to help them ignore what’s happening around them.
With each episode narrated by the duo, their home lives are depicted are depicted as torturous purgatory that no one else will understand. However, we, the audience, are made privy to the odd glance, a dropped word, a small gesture that manages to paint volumes about things they can’t/don’t want to see. James’ dad, played by Steven Oram, is perpetually cheery, but it’s suggested this is merely a front to hide the fact he’s still mourning his dead wife. Meanwhile, Alyssa feels she can’t talk to her mum about her pervy step-dad, but the audience knows that not only does mum know, she’s scared to do anything about. Despite James and Alyssa’s, shall we say, affectations, they perfectly echo that deep-rooted angst in us all that forces us to believe at that age that we really are alone.
All of which makes The End of the F***ing World sound like you’re playing all your Radiohead albums at once. Far from it, a thick juicy vein of nihilistic comedy runs right through the series. Having shown his repertoire of nervous twitches and stuttering in Black Mirror’s Shut Up and Dance, Lawther brings them out to full effect as the Dexter-lite killer, who goes into panic mode when he finally gets a chance to kill someone. Barden, meanwhile, brilliantly captures that violent frown that only teenagers can do so well. Everything she’s face with is an annoyance of some kind; whether it be meeting her deadbeat, absentee father, or having to clean up after a dead rapist.
All of which contrasts nicely with the series bleak ending. The End of F***ing World is not merely a bombastic title, it’s a forewarning that everything you’re about to see may be for naught. Once the credits for the final episode play, you realise that the show was always going to end this way. Like James’ effect on Alex, and vice versa, the show leaves an indelible mark on you that’s both bittersweet and strangely uplifting.