Exclusively released by Netflix, The End of the F****** World is a short-form British dark comedy and drama series that honestly feels more like a movie than anything episodic. It’s no surprise, then, that it’s the easiest binge-watch in years.
Alex Lawther plays James, a 17-year-old kid who decides he’s a psychopath and sets out to murder someone at his school. Jessica Barden plays Alyssa, a rebellious and foul-mouthed high schooler who sparks a relationship with James in order to escape her troublesome home life. Guess who James decides to kill?
With genre material this surreal and heightened, it’s likely obvious that this series is also based on a graphic novel of the same name by Charles S. Forsman. And similar to the comic series, it’s a rapid-paced, punchy experience that changes its own stylistic format on the fly, somehow carrying two believable story arcs across a coming-of-age dark comedy, a Kerouac-esque road trip, a psychological horror thriller, and even a procedural crime drama. And that’s just the first four episodes.
What The End of the F****** World ultimately blossoms into by its eighth and final episode (each installment is a breezy 20 minutes or so) is something too contextually beautiful to spoil with a sentence, a surprising and revelatory affirmation of the teenage experience told through something too absurdist and unrelenting to outright recommend to general audiences. It’s no wonder the title remained intact from comic to screen, because it serves as a near-perfect barrier between the subject matter and hesitant viewers.
Showrunner Jonathan Entwistle, along with collaborators Charlie Covell and Lucy Tcherniak, have kicked off 2018 (though the series was released in the UK back in October) with a story so perplexing in both its style and substance that it’s already sparked heated debates over the show’s true entertainment form. Literally speaking, it’s doled out as serial episodes, but the season (which feels decidedly standalone) also comes off as something designed for one sitting and could have easily been edited as a 160 minute movie made for theaters.
But perhaps its own ambiguity is the point. Rather than conform to traditional storytelling methods, The End of the F****** World forces us to adapt to its whims and jarring personality, constantly surprising us with how effortlessly watchable it is from soundtrack to cinematography.
“I wanted to make myself feel something,” James proclaims through the show’s heavy use of narration, here a device for fueling the show’s pacing rather than dragging it. A diary come to life, if you will, exposing the deep existential flaws of what teenagers are really thinking as they experiment with relationships for the first time. The disparity between James and Alyssa couldn’t be more pronounced—he wants to kill her, she wants someone as messed up as her to love—and the show refuses to treat what you’d expect out of that dynamic as an excuse to knock teens down a peg. The result is one of the most genuinely touching pairings of any age I’ve seen on any screen all year, including all of 2017. Remember, this is a show about a teenager wanting to kill his girlfriend.
Throughout the show, it’s almost baffling to notice the various genres and tonal shifts pass you by. It’s not until the end that Entwistle’s master plan truly comes to light, as he makes the case for using various emotional storytelling devices to get across the same message: relationships are scary. And not just romantic ones. Especially not just romantic ones. The success found in blending multiple genres to emphasize the consistent life lessons found in teenage rebellion (and various subplots, including a particularly robust one centered around Gemma Whelan and Wunmi Mosaku, who have spin-off written all over them) are what truly make The End of the F****** World an early and definitive delight for 2018 and beyond.