By Jim Sabataso
Being a teenager can be a dark time. Even under ideal conditions, it’s a period of extreme highs and lows as you transition into adulthood and forge your own identity through the crucible of raging hormones, wild emotions, and new experiences. At times, that can be too much for us to handle, and, in true teenager form, we are convinced that no one in history has ever felt it more deeply than us.
The new Netflix series and BBC import “The End of the F***ing World” takes the experience of teen angst and first love and twists it in violent, darkly comic ways. Adapted from a graphic novel of the same name by Charles Forsman, showrunner Charlie Covell and directors Jonathan Entwistle and Lucy Tcherniak deftly bring this funny, sweet and, at times, shocking story to life.
Alex Lather plays James, a gloomy teen who suspects he might be a psychopath. Through voice-over narration, we learn about James’ predilection for violence, which includes killing small animals. Now, he’s hunting bigger game.
Enter Alyssa (Jessica Barden), an angry girl with a knack for pushing people’s buttons. Finding herself drawn to James, she cozies up to him while he secretly resolves to murder her. Alyssa also gets to narrate. The contrast between what both say and think adds to the humor. It also exposes the gap between their exterior bravado and their interior fear and uncertainty.
Unhappy with her home life — her mother is a vapid, passive housewife, her step-dad is a leering creep — Alyssa convinces James to steal his dad’s car and run away with her. Seeing this as an opportunity to make his kill, he obliges.
However, they soon find themselves on the wrong side of the law and covering their tracks. From there, the story follows the couple as they comically fumble through life on the lam as James’ original plan gets complicated when he catches feelings for Alyssa and realizes he might not be the cold-blooded killer he thought he was.
Supporting performances by Gemma Whelan (“Game of Thrones”) and Wunmi Mosaku (“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”) as the detectives pursuing James and Alyssa are notable. The pair shares a complicated relationship that simmers throughout the series.
Going into the show, I was concerned it was going to fall into predictable serial killer tropes. Based on the trailer, I wondered if I was in store for “Hannibal, Jr.” or “Dexter” meets “Dawson’s Creek.” The show thankfully steers clear of such pitfalls. Despite the occasional violence — mostly in the form of James’ fantasies — this is, at its core, an endearing story of young, albeit possibly doomed, love.
Stylistically, the show calls to mind Wes Anderson’s films with its intentionally flat line readings, head-on framing, and frequent cutaways. Certain scenes also call to mind “Pulp Fiction” and “Natural Born Killers.”
The use of voiceover narration is also strength. The split in tenses — Alyssa narrates in the present, James in the past — is a clever device that compounds the series’ ambitious ending. The series absolutely leaves the door open for a second season; though, if this is it, it’s a fine endpoint.
At eight episodes that clock in at around 20 minutes each, the series is a perfect weekend binge. In a time when the freedom of streaming can lead to episode bloat, “The End of the F***ing World” gets points for brevity without sacrificing story.
CHECK IT OUT
“The End of the F***ing World” is now streaming on Netflix.