#SGWatch4U is our weekly screen review column where we tackle anything from film to TV/Netflix.
Some days, it takes all there is in you to resist just throwing in the towel. The newest import on Netflix takes that overwhelming frustration and marries it with deadpan humor, great acting and a wildly absurd script for a refreshing reminder that your life isn’t as terrible as you think it is.
Based off a comic series of the same name by Charles S. Forsman, The End of The F**ing World (TEOTFW) is a dark comedy that centers on self-declared psychopath James (Alex Lawther) and moody new girl Alyssa (Jessica Barden); two 17-year-olds who decide they’ve had enough of the shit life has handed to them on a plate.
In eight parts of no more than 22 minutes each, the two live out a progressively dark adventure that starts with them running away from home, and spirals quickly into event after event of unbelievable bad luck. It’s as if Forsman (and the show’s writer Charlie Covell) really took to the idea of A Series of Unfortunate Events, and decided a real-world setting would be the best place to recreate it.
Despite the kitschy name, though, TEOTFW offers a multi-layered look at real life, real people, and real heartaches. The premise may be founded on James wanting to murder Alyssa—oh, teens and their new-fangled hobbies these days—but the story quickly diverges from that, in favor of delving into weightier topics of family, first love, and childhood trauma.
We seem to be living in an era of stunningly talented young actors. The show gives plenty of room for its teen characters to shine, consequently placing their adult counterparts in a less savory light, for reasons that become more apparent as the series progresses. Rising up to the challenge, Lawther and Barden deliver consistent performances throughout, and showcase convincing character development by the end of the series. Barden, in what must be her breakout role, tugs at heartstrings oscillating between foul-mouthed rebel and the movingly vulnerable young girl Alyssa actually is. And if Lawther seems like he’s been typecast (you might recognize him as the blackmailed teen in Black Mirror’s “Shut Up and Dance”), it’s only because he’s nailed the weedy, socially inept outsider figure so many of us struggle to grow out of in our own lives. Seven episodes after we first meet him, his closing line will shatter you.
Still, in developing its characters, the show never forgoes its distinctive British humour and blunt cynicism that made the pilot episode so riveting in the first place. TEOTFW famously first made headlines for its 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s easy to see why. The events are narrated in part by the protagonists’ inner monologues, which are curt, often rude, and always hilariously honest. In a time where we’ve been socially conditioned to be polite and politically correct, that kind of brusque candor is weirdly liberating. Don’t be ashamed if you find yourself laughing at some of the grislier scenes.
Another big plus is the striking cinematography. The sharp, straightforward cuts are a stark but effective contrast to the beautiful coloring of the scenes, and would make any Wes Anderson enthusiast tingle. There’s also an effective use of black borders to signal flashbacks—given that none of the memories are particularly pleasant.
And then there’s the story itself. TEOTFW plays with absurd realism, but it isn’t the shocking plot points (and trust us, there are many) that drive the story and leave you with a sense of dread, deep in the pit of your stomach. It’s the slow and heart-breaking reveal of James’ backstory; it’s Alyssa finding out that what lies at the end of her constructed rainbow isn’t a pot of gold. The world could literally fall apart, and it wouldn’t compare to the devastation our young protagonists face as a result of their everyday home lives.
TEOTFW is both overwhelmingly sweet and impossibly bleak at the same time, it thrusts you up and down on a rollercoaster of emotions that must take skill to balance so unfailingly. At one point Alyssa muses thoughtfully that “a lot of the time you don’t register the important moments as they happen; you only see that they were important when you look back.” Likewise, every scene is so thoughtfully constructed that no single minute in TEOTFW’s three-hour runtime is without significance. If you find yourself hesitating after the first episode, persevere, for the pay-off is as rewarding as it is bleak. But bear in mind that the title doesn’t lie—it does have its many tender moments, but the end is still f***ing dark.