It’s more than just a modern Bonnie and Clyde.
In The End of the F***ing World (TEOTFW), two teenage outcasts, sick of their bleak home lives and boring town, steal a car and go on a road trip, whereupon they dig themselves deeper into increasingly violent situations. Based on the graphic novel by Charles Forsman, the eight-episode British miniseries, told from dual points of view, debuted on Netflix earlier this month and has become something of a phenomenon among critics and viewers alike.
The show makes quite the first impression in its introduction of its central duo: James, a self-proclaimed psychopath who plunged his own hand into a deep fryer as a child “to feel something,” and Alyssa, a capricious potty mouth whose angst is the complete opposite of bottled up. They meet in school and immediately become romantically involved — at least, that’s what James (who plans to “graduate” from killing animals to murdering a real, live human being) wants Alyssa to think.
When Alyssa, an outsider even in her own home, decides she has had enough of the charade of it all, she runs away and take James with her, completely clueless that he might be plotting her demise.
I watched it all in less than three hours. The setup — an open road, two volatile minors, and plenty of misdemeanors and beyond — recalled the likes of True Romance (keep an eye out for visual references), Badlands, and Shangri-La Suite, perhaps even Heathers and the OGs Bonnie and Clyde. But by the third episode, it began to sink in that this series was not going the way I expected at all.
It can become a chore to get through the above mentioned films because you can only witness so much pointless violence and indulgent, self-destructive excess. I was fully prepared to see the same play out in TEOTFW. Instead, it trades hedonism in for survival and rampaging for adventure.
James and Alyssa’s journey plays out realistically and isn’t sensationalized: Their motivations for running away are somewhat justified, and the crimes committed are either accidents or necessities. (They dine and dash because neither had thought to bring money, for example, or Alyssa shoplifts delicates because she had gotten her period.) There is even an anti-capitalist spiel on cheating the system being okay as long as it affects only large corporations, or “The Man.”
One thing I was worried about upon watching the pilot would be that the show would be reckless in its portrayal of psychopathy, but it ended up treating the disorder, as well as other mental illnesses and how they affect families as a whole, with sensitivity and depth. The humor, while dark and deadpan, is inoffensive and progressive, and actually laugh-out-loud funny. (“Your baby looks like a potato,” Alyssa tells a man who picks them up while hitchhiking. “He looks like a ham.”)
Still, the most interesting thing about this series is watching the dynamic continuously shift between James and Alyssa as a pair. Both are lonely, both are “freaks,” and both are totally unaware of how to act around one another — a stiltedness that becomes endearing.
There is a recurring theme of trust when it comes to the adults in their lives and the ones they encounter on the road. The man they hitchhike with takes advantage of James; on the other hand, the security guard tasked to watch recent shoplifter Alyssa is strict with her, but also treats her with respect.
It shows that James and Alyssa are both lost, simply wanting some decent parenting or guardianship in their lives for once. Their days on the run have forced them to grow up, but at the end of the day, they look after each other and become, as James says, “protectors” of one another. Ultimately, they’re still teenagers who dance around, who kiss at the wheel, who may even fall in love — but in a way that’s natural and makes sense, something to root for that’s actually pretty sweet.
With stunning visuals and performances, brilliant writing, and an LSS-worthy soundtrack by Blur’s Graham Coxon, The End of the F***ing World is a twisted, no-holds-barred, and also weirdly moving and cute take on the “misfits in love” plot, where even the most unlikeable of characters are able to develop and evolve, and there’s always a place for them in the world — or in the arms of someone else.