BY LINDSEY MCGINNIS ’18
“The End of the F***ing World” is part coming-of-age story, part “Pulp Fiction” tribute, with viewers following moody teenager Alyssa (Jessica Barden) and self-proclaimed psychopath James (Alex Lawther) as they try to outmaneuver the police — and their parents — after running away from home. Set to a retro soundtrack of American rock and doo-wop hits, the scrawny fugitives leave a path of destruction in their wake.
The series originally aired in the UK in October 2017, but was re-released internationally by Netflix in January. This highly-bingable show examines the volatility of young love, with each 20-minute episode lurching the story forward to an inevitable and unsettling conclusion.
James and Alyssa run away from home with very different motives. Alyssa believes James is an easy escape from a town and family she finds oppressive. James pretends to fall in love with her because he thinks she would be easy for him to kill.
Throughout the first few episodes, you learn about the scrappy antiheroes — and their complex relationship — through contrasting internal monologues. Just before they decide to steal his dad’s car, for example, Alyssa looks at James and says to herself, “I kinda think I could fall in love with him.” James, meanwhile, “wondered if it would be easier to slit her throat if I flipped her around.”
Naturally, his plan to kill Alyssa hits a few road bumps, and he ends up developing feelings for her over the course of their Bonnie-and-Clyde crime spree. Alex Lawther (“Imitation Game,” “Black Mirror”) offers one of the most original character arcs on TV today, delivering an understated performance of a wanna-be-psychopath gradually coming to terms with childhood trauma.
Alyssa’s character is much more typical, but no less compelling. At the beginning of the series, it looks like Alyssa might develop into a sort of manic pixie dream girl. “I get these moments,” she admits in her intro, “when I have to lie down because everything feels sort of too much and I look up and see the blue, or the grey, or the black and I feel myself melting into it. And, for like a split second, I feel free and happy. Innocent. Like a dog, or an alien, or a baby.”
But Jessica Barden (“Hanna,” “Far from the Madding Crowd”) succeeds in balancing her character’s inherit “quirkiness” with a surprisingly familiar portrayal of adolescent hostility. Alyssa is just a regular teenage girl, full of false confidence and raging hormones, who idolizes an absent father and lashes out at anyone who comes near her.
The young actors are at their best in the rare moments when they ditch their characters’ rough exteriors to reveal a couple of vulnerable, screwed up teens who ultimately learn to trust each other.
Gemma Whelan (“Game of Thrones”) is also a stand-out in her role as one of the few bearable adults, the compassionate detective Eunice Noon. After spending the first few episodes being awkwardly rejected by her partner, detective Teri Darego (Wunmi Mosaku), Noon emerges as a fan favorite when she uses her empathy and intuition to make major headway in the investigation regarding James and Alyssa.
Directed by Jonathan Entwistle, whose previous work includes various shorts and commercials, TEOTFW is a brilliant season of television. The show’s dry British humor and overall campiness help balance the chaotic storyline, while the skillful cinematography and playful soundtrack make it a pleasure to watch. A second season is by no means necessary, but it would definitely be appreciated.