Review: The End of the F**cking World


Unfortunately not the end of teenage angst

An adaptation of the 2013 graphic novel by Charles Forsman, The End of the F**king World is an early 2018 drop for Netflix aimed to cash in on the troubled teen variety of television series' success. Maybe it's done in a slightly different way, maybe: Dawson's Creek this is not. If you've ever wanted to punch your dad in the face, this may be the one for you.

The End of the F**king World (Season 1)
Directors: Jonathan Entwistle & Lucy Tcherniak
Rating: TV-MA
Release Date: January 5, 2018

The 8 episode series follows the trials and tribulations of James and Alyssa, a pair of seventeen-year-old British high schoolers who, to put it simply, have issues. James, through careful narration reveals that he is most likely a "psychopath" within the first 30 seconds of runtime, dipped his hand in a deep fryer at age 9, and that he's a serial murderer of neighborhood animals within the first 2 minutes. That's James in a nutshell, at least according to his own internal narrative.

Alyssa, prone to outbursts, profanity, and a general lack of caring about anything, reveals that she's adrift in a world that she doesn't quite understand or that doesn't live up to expectations of what a world should be. While she's done nothing so drastic as "slit the throat" of a neighbors cat, she's antisocial (or at least flaunts societal conventions that are antisocial in of themselves, for instance, texting someone sitting at the same table), profane, and acts as an incendiary agent for James.

Narratively, she's also the driving force behind everything that happens, and not only because when James reveals he's been planning to kill a human being he also notes that Alyssa seems a suitable candidate, but because she plays on his other instincts too--those that might contradict his self-diagnosis of psychosis.

TEOTFW is a microcosm unto itself, with nearly all of the shows events focusing on action shown through James and Alyssa. This is their world and their world only. The intensely character driven plot that focuses solely on the two narrators parallels their respective world views, which, in typical teenage fashion, are incredibly self-centered. Also, very un-Dawson-like, these teenagers look like teenagers. When James takes off his shirt, his malnourished, depression-era chicken torso screams, 'yes, this is a teenage body.' I almost choked when, after viewing the show, I learned that Alex Lawther (James) is 22 and Jessica Barden (Alyssa) is 25. Talk about amazing casting. I'm not sure real teenagers could play their parts better as they lack the emotional depth and experience to bring the angst to life. While I find its seemingly necessary for older actresses and actors continue to play teens, in this case, it was a smart decision. 

Watching two incredibly selfish, self-destructive, and questionably reprehensible teenagers runaway from home and go on a mini-campaign of unjustified destruction may not be the cup of tea for your average joe / jane. As the plot progresses, backstory and current events unfold through juxtaposed flashbacks and asides that allow both teenagers have had things happen to them that have clearly impacted them emotionally and developmentally.

In James, this manifests as an apparent inability to feel and subsequent detachment that leads him to kill small animals and believe that he wants to murder a human being. In Alyssa, it manifests as an ability to lack self-control and exhibit impulsive behavior at odds with conventions. At times, the contextual justifications for their actions seem lacking. Many people endure family tragedy, not all of them start to murder pets because of it.

The wit in the writing, especially inherent when Alyssa explodes about one thing or another, isn't strong enough to counterbalance the problems inherent with watching two winy children explore the world around them while complaining all about it. 

The format, short, twenty-something-minute episodes, does balance against the general impulse to want to watch something other than teenagers complaining that life is unfair. The character quirks, combined with the rapid-fire development of action points and short episode length combine to make the show addictive in the sense that you know you don't need to watch it for long to get to the end: it's very much within reach.

Unfortunately, the show is unable to stick to its two-character perspective for narrative reasons. It's brave for a television series to flaunt conventions and focus intensely on the perspectives and lives of only two characters, forgoing the extended casts that have ruined other dark dramedies (Dexter). But when action dictates that other vantage points must be explored so that plot developments don't come out of nowhere, the show loses steam. Just because you need to introduce two female police detectives so that we know who they are when their paths converge with those of our protagonists, doesn't mean we want to hear about their love lives, or their poor decisions when they both drank a little too much.

There's some reasoning to create a split that allows that one cop will show up, sympathetic to the young Bonnie and Clyde, when the moment calls for it, but one wishes the story could have been told in a way to avoid it. It would have been cleaner, and it would have fit better.

Visually, the film revels in long shots that never quite match the style of a Wes Anderson, but that are well selected, nonetheless. There are moments, and here credit is due to cinematographers Justin Brown and Ben Foresman (esp. the former as several standout shots fall in his credits), that are simply beautiful; well lit, moody as fuck, and stunning to view.

As the show only begins to hint at new territory, and never fully goes somewhere we haven't been before. As killer couples go, these two are refreshingly innocent--a point that becomes progressively clearer as the further their journey takes them, the less their convictions by angst hold true and what they previously thought to be the heart of themselves is revealed to be false.

Just interesting enough to inspire curiosity of the 'what happens next' variety, TEOTFW ends with a cliffhanger ending that could very much be straight out Butch Cassidy and the Sundown Kid, or could be quintessential modern programming that doesn't end when it narratively should. We'll have to wait and find out in a day or two when Netflix may or may not renew the series for a second season. Or maybe they'll let this dead dog die.

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Rick Lash
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