First look UK TV review: The End of the F***ing World
Sophie Davies | On 24, Oct 2017
“I’m James, I’m 17 and I’m pretty sure I’m a psychopath.” Channel 4/Netflix co-production The End of the F***ing World, based on an award-winning graphic novel, sees two angst-ridden teenagers run away from home and embark on a road trip, with the morbid twist that one teen is thinking of murdering the other.
The first episode opens by introducing us to James (Alex Lawther), whose emotional detachment – he once plunged his hand into a deep fat fryer in an attempt to feel something – has led him to conclude that he’s a psychopath. After years of secretly slaughtering animals, he now wants to move onto killing something bigger, and an opportunity suddenly presents itself in the form of Alyssa (Jessica Barden). She’s the new girl in school and takes a shine to James, when she spots him sitting alone in the canteen, because he doesn’t seem to fit in. James ponders that she “could be interesting to kill”, so allows their relationship to progress.
Alyssa has problems beyond the fact that her new boyfriend, unknowingly to her, is considering her as potential prey. Angry, cynical and foul-mouthed, in the first episode alone we see her smash her phone in annoyance and swearily berate a waitress. With an absent father (something she shares in common with James, who has no mum) and a creepy stepdad, she’s fed up of life at home and it’s her idea that she and James steal his dad’s car and take off.
When their road trip begins, Alyssa’s behaviour is wild and frustrating, from impulsively spending all of her available money on laser tag, to commanding James to undress while he’s driving. By the end of the second episode, though, her bad girl exterior is showing signs of starting to crumble, which gives her some welcome vulnerability. Throughout the third instalment, James also undergoes some character development, suggesting that his intentions with Alyssa are not as clear-cut as they initially seemed.
The End of the F***ing World lets us hear the thoughts of our two main characters, much like Peep Show, so James’ psychotic thoughts are juxtaposed with Alyssa’s comparatively innocent ones. At first, the technique feels a little overused – after James asks Alyssa on a date, he informs us “she said yes”, which doesn’t really seem necessary, given that we then immediately see them on said date – but over the two subsequent episodes, this point-of-view narration occurs less frequently, or perhaps just becomes less noticeable. Similarly, Episode 1 is a bit heavy on sudden shots of blood and gore, alluding to James’ desire to kill, but these feel less incessant as the show continues.
As coming-of-age stories go, The End of the F***ing World is quite unlike anything else. The stakes start out high, with the very real possibility that James will kill Alyssa, and they get even higher, as the pair end up running away from a lot more than just their families. Add into the mix some extremely dark humour – at one point, Alyssa comments that James makes her feel safe, while he is literally sharpening the knives he intends to murder her with – plus two strong young leads, and you get a show that’s compelling to watch and difficult to predict.
All eight episodes of The End of the F***ing World are available to watch exclusively on All 4.