Netflix’s new exclusive The End Of the F***ing World could probably be the best thing available on the internet currently. I say so because beyond its brash title and first few episodes, lies an almost perfect, binge-worthy web series which carries a surprising amount of emotional weight. Based on a comic series of the same name by Charles Forsman, it stars Alex Lawther as James and Jessica Barden as Alyssa.
The title does make it clear, The End of the F***ing World is a very dark show, but more than the nasty graphic scenes, what hits you hard here is the pitch-black humour. “I’m James,” a skinny British adolescent kid announces at the beginning of the show. “I’m 17, and I’m pretty sure I’m a psychopath.” The premise is simple. Two messed-up teenagers bond over their frustrated familial lives, one is an apparent psychopath ready to progress from murdering animals and the second suffers from an abusive relationship with her stepfather.
The first two episodes of this briskly-paced series may come across as a tad bit too derivative. While Lawther plays James as a barely blinking and almost comical self-diagnosed psychopath, Barden does add a certain level of complexity to her character of Alyssa. She storms through situations hurling absues at every possible instance but on the inside, her monologues convey her vulnerability. Blatant efforts to adopt the ‘I-don’t-give-a-f**’ kind of attitude also, however, find shape in lines like Alyssa’s “F*** seatbelts,” after they steal the car and James’ “I wonder what she would sound like when I killed her.” But hold your breath till the third episode because post that, you will be hooked.
While it is difficult to pinpoint the moment when the narrative shifts in the series, I think it is the point when James realises that he is not a psychopath. This is the point where viewers are brought face-to-face with the young innocence (or ignorance) of these seemingly adult teenagers. And slowly, everything begins to make sense.
With the constant flashbacks, we finally understand the psyche of James, why he throws his hand in a deep fat fryer and why he feels the need to feel things. The mannered performances of Lawther and Barden become so engaging at one point that you actually want their dysfunctional love story to work out.
Written by Charlie Covell and directed by Jonathan Entwistle, The End of the F***ing World consists of eight almost-twenty-minute long episodes. Speaking strictly in regard to the over-saturated binge-watching market, the brevity of the show is possibly the best thing about it. Every minute matters and still it never feels like there is too much happening. From the opening voice over, we are intimidated with the fact that no punches will be pulled over by the makers. Even then the scant number of dialogues are given a breathing space of their own, while the silences speak volumes.
The editing of The End Of the F***ing World is actually brilliant as well. There is a distinctive haphazard way that the scenes are presented in the series from the beginning. And soon enough, we get so used to this no-nonsense pattern that we don’t mind the sudden cuts and shifts. In fact, in the early episodes, the background score and the editing are hugely responsible for building the psychopathic feel of the show and contrastingly, later, as the tone changes, both the editing and sounds are accordingly adapted.
Despite the brevity, the side stories are not side stepped at all by the writers. Be it Alyssa’s mother (Christine Bottomley) who turns a blind eye to her husband’s relationship with her daughter, James’ incognisant father (Steve Oram), the serial rapist Clive Koch (Jonathan Aris) or the police officers, the principled Teri Donoghue (Wunmi Mosaku) and the more sympathetic one, Eunice Noon (Gemma Whelan), the right amount of screen time has been given to their narratives and they build some strong background character stories. The way how James is able to merge the story about his mother’s suicide in the narrative is a great example of exactly how much importance has been given to the scripting.
A review of The End of the F***ing World would be incomplete without talking about its mind-boggling closing scene. While it is difficult to curb the feeling of wanting more from this extremely dark yet heartwarming world, if Netflix decides to end the show like this, we don’t really mind. Because one, we know that Alyssa and James’ crimes have to catch up with them some day and second, we can’t imagine the series getting any better than this.
In less than three hours, The End of the F***ing World creates a neatly-sketched world that is distinctively dark in its styling yet tells a love story that we wish would go on but we know shouldn’t.