In late 2017, the first season of the British television show “The End of the F***ing World” arrived on All 4, a European streaming service, and early the next year it was added to Netflix worldwide. Based on Charles Forsman’s comic series of the same vulgar name, “The End of the F***ing World” garnered a dedicated following and was well recognized at award season.
The show follows two young adults living broken lives in the suburbs of England. James is a social outcast of his own making, on a personal quest to become a psychopath in the most straightfoward way possible — committing a murder. James singles out the down-to-earth Alyssa, a new classmate who almost instantly takes a liking to him. The two form an unlikely friendship when they decide to abandon their less-than-happy lives and travel cross-country in search of Alyssa’s father.
As their journey evolves throughout this first season, both characters’ respective pasts come out of the woodwork: James dredges up the trauma of his mother’s suicide while he reflects on his thoughts of psychosis, as Alyssa begins to question her memories of an absent father and come to terms with an abusive home life. All the while, their bond grows stronger despite the polarity of their personalities; each blossoms into a character that is better because of the other.
These heavy themes of trauma and abuse are coupled with a consistent grip on dark comedy which rarely, if ever, misses a beat. Much of it — aside from the charming and often raunchy witticisms exchanged between the two leads — plays off the situations James and Alyssa find themselves in. Whether the two are caught red-handed while lying low at the scene of a crime or attempting to make out and drive simultaneously — as Alyssa explains: it’s something she and James “should” do — the quick and clever writing elicits laughter without fault.
By all means a chaotic adventure, “The End of the F***ing World” strikes a perfect balance of comedy and drama, and in a story that could easily slip into edgy melodrama, manages to overcome the temptation. Though credit is certainly due to the production’s sharp editing, this balance largely succeeds because of the performances. Actors Alex Lawther and Jessica Barden embody the respective roles of James and Alyssa with expertise, creating vulnerable people that are effortlessly real. The ensemble is equally impressive, especially onscreen duo Wunmi Mosaku and “Game of Thrones” star Gemma Whelan as a pair of detectives in pursuit of the runaways.
Packed with eight energetic, twenty-minute bites of content, season one of “The End of the F***ing World” can be comfortably viewed in a single sitting, and therefore runs more like a longer movie. In fact, time willing, I recommend this method. With its urgent pace and sense of narrative cohesion, there’s no doubt you’ll want to.