“As these troubled characters fall for each other, you fall for them.”
The End of the F***ing World is a British mini-series that premiered in 2017 and was added to Netflix in 2018, based on a comic book by Charles S. Forsman of the same title. The darkly humorous drama series follows two teenagers, James and Alyssa, as they go on the run together after deciding to leave their families and stealing James’ father’s car (but not, of course, before James punches his father in the face). Alyssa is an impulsive teenager from a dysfunctional family, and James is an apathetic boy who believes himself to be a psychopath. At the start of the series, James intends on murdering Alyssa, his so-called girlfriend, when the time is right. The pair embark on the journey without a plan or destination in mind. As they make their way, the two teens encounter a dogfighting pedophile, a murderous novelist, and an unknown half-sibling, as well as find themselves at odds with law enforcement.
While the teens are dryly nihilistic, the show artfully captures the more delicate awkwardness of teenage romance. Though some aspects of the plot are glaringly obvious – who would have guessed the man willing to pick up two hitchhiking teens would be of questionable character? – the predictable parts are made hilarious by comments from the sarcastic Alyssa, who announces that “I am gonna be so f***ed off if we get murdered” as she climbs into the backseat of a stranger’s car. Despite a few predictable elements, the story has numerous twists and turns to keep it interesting, all the while showing how two flawed, naive teenagers attempt to navigate an adult world that does not care about them. Both tired of feeling that life is out of their control, the two face the world together and form the first meaningful relationship in their lives along the way. In the show’s first episode, in an iconic, characteristic scene, a friend texts Alyssa while they are seated at the same lunch table, and Alyssa proceeds to smash her phone in pure frustration at her peers’ inability to have real conversations and relationships. But by the end of the series, Alyssa and James have found the connection they barely knew they needed in each other. So, do not be fooled: as wild and cynical as this show may seem, it really is a touching love story.
One of the strengths of the series is the impressive character development demonstrated by the two main characters in a mere eight episodes. Alyssa begins the show reckless and immature,which is perfectly demonstrated by the fact that after the pair steals a car and goes on the run, her first decision as an autonomous individual in charge of her own destiny is to go and spend all of her money on laser tag. By the end of the show, Alyssa has learned restraint and emotional maturity – though she still has some ways to go – as exemplified in her decision to return to James after impulsively leaving him in a time of need. In contrast, James starts as an apathetic, emotionless, homicidal teen without a real connection to any other human being. As the two drive across the empty countryside, literally the only person in each other’s world, conquering life together, they learn to be vulnerable, to care for another person, and to develop the deepest human connection they’ve ever felt in their lives. Side by side, the pair faces off against murderers, law enforcement, idealized but ultimately disappointing fathers, and repressed childhood trauma.
Stylistic choices, like comic narration that reveals a glimpse into the minds of the characters as well as an entertaining soundtrack, lighten the mood when circumstances for our two protagonists start to look particularly bleak. The show doesn’t shy away from more realistic elements of being on the run – such as when Alyssa gets her period and is forced to steal underwear. It also gets a nod from me for LGBT+ representation – the cops that are on the trail of the teens are lesbians, but it is certainly not a defining element of their characters. And while the show explores many serious topics – from suicide, to abandonment, to child abuse – it also handles the softer, gentler story of a teenage romance exceptionally well.
While The End of the F***ing World does succumb to some cheesy romance tropes, they are executed with such naivety, innocence, and vulnerability that one barely notices the lack of originality. I am certainly guilty of excitedly exclaiming “she went back for him!” when I first watched the series. Ultimately, while it starts as a darkly apathetic comedy, this series truly embodies finding love where you would least expect it. And as these troubled characters fall for each other, you fall for them.
PC: muniftanjim / Flickr