The opening note of Netflix’s new show, The End of the F***ing World, is the snare crack that jump starts a punk rock song of a show that loses little momentum in its brief (eight episodes, all under twenty-five minutes each) run time.
As that one pesky, particular word in the title implies, the show serves as a middle finger to the stiffs who try to be parents and guardians; it’s also a show that yearns to be hugged, welcomed, and comforted by that same presence of adulthood. It’s as much about the loneliness of adolescence as it is the rebellion found because of that same feeling.
What anchors the mostly singular story is its focus on the James (Alex Lawther), a self-described psychopath who once put his hand in a deep fryer just to feel something, and his sudden girlfriend Alyssa (Jessica Barden), the type of person who just cannot fit in. And when all of her so-called friends tend to text from three feet away, who can blame her? And that’s a large bridge of the beauty of the show: no matter how dark the comedy gets (and it gets pretty dark), Lawther and Barden make James and Alyssa such sympathetic characters that you pull for them even when you know that they are very clearly in the wrong. Each side eye and twitch from Lawther makes you want to take him in and away from the danger that surely awaits; Barden makes Alyssa as endearing as any smart ass on television. In other hands, the character of Alyssa would’ve been annoying, yet watch the hilarious way Barden rattles off a “Fanks” for any offered help. Both actors are as good as any their age.
The writing keeps the characters feel as real as any living, breathing set of teenagers in the real world, though their circumstances may not be as grounded. Neither James nor Alyssa are going to be popping up on a CW show any time soon, but their story feels more realistic due to the insane and yearning tone created by their conversations, situations, and reactions.
Another fun way the show sets itself apart is that it forgoes a score for a soundtrack that can be hamfisted at times but never overbearing, weaving in the Buzzcocks to Wanda Jackson, from Hank Williams to Mazzy Star.
The only time The End of the F***ing World falters is the addition of an odd love story involving two detectives that seems to serve only as a punctuation mark on the themes of instability in relationships and how they rarely weld an answer to deeper problems. Their connection adds little more, though it is a nice surprise to see Gemma Whelan outside of that Yara Greyjoy role from Game of Thrones.
The middle episodes land as much sharp as flat, but that doesn’t stop the entire series sustaining a ragged, beautiful, bloody note. And for a set of punks, you couldn’t ask for a better song that is The End of the F***ing World.
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