The End of the F*ing World

Credits

Cast

Network

Reviewer

Paul Asay

TV Series Review

Most teens probably feel a little lost and alone at some point. Weird and unloved. They look in the mirror, stare deeply at the face staring back at them and think to themselves, sincerely, “Boy, am I messed up!” (Or some variation thereof).

Yes, most teens feel this way sometimes. But for some, they’re absolutely, positively telling the truth.

Take James, a 17-year-old with an apparent fondness for murder. Oh, he hasn’t gone all the way yet. His victims have been small animals thus far. But he’s ready to graduate to bigger prey. “Much bigger,” he says.

That’s when Alyssa walks into his life. She’s a young classmate whom even James admits “had some issues.” Alyssa’s birth father walked out on her and her family when she was 8, and she hasn’t seen him since. Her mom’s new hubby, Tony, has taken to Alyssa in a more-than-fatherly way. Alyssa doesn’t trust anyone who fits in, and man, does James not fit in.

She quickly claims him for her boyfriend and pushes things along at the speed of a Golden State fast break. The two fractured lovebirds run off together, as fractured lovebirds in prestige dark comedies are wont to do, stealing James’ dad’s car to make their less-than-clean getaway.

“I feel, I dunno, comfortable with him,” Alyssa tells us. “Sort of safe.”

Meanwhile, James literally sharpens his murder knife.

The Beginning of The End

The whole “will they or won’t they” dynamic has been a television trope for years—probably ever since television censors deemed it permissible to show two people in one bed. But here, the trope isn’t predicated so much on whether these underage lovers will sleep together (though there’s that, too), but whether James’ll turn his young femme fatale into a femme fatality.

As the show progresses, though, viewers find that James and Alyssa just might not be as permanently screwed up as they imagine, that a little love and companionship might go a long way toward healing their long-festering emotional wounds. Then again, maybe they just begin to look a little more sane compared to the hideously unhinged individuals they run into, or—especially in Alyssa’s case—the loutish parents she’s left behind.

And in truth, End of the F*ing World offers some interesting insights into that world. When he’s 9, James sticks his hand in a deep-fat fryer to “make myself feel something.” But some of the folks he and Alyssa encounter seem as if they’re actively working at deadening themselves from all sensation, shutting the door on discomforting truths and uncomfortable moments. Others are ever more emotionally disturbed, seeking pleasure in the darkest recesses of the human imagination.

And I suppose that’s as an appropriate place as any to get into this show’s litany of issues.

Judge This Show by Its Title

Look, when a series slaps the f-word in its title—censored by asterisks but really obscuring nothing—you don’t need a Plugged In review to tell you that it’s gonna have problems.

Based on a book of the same (uncensored) name by Charles S. Forsman, this very British, very dark comedy was released Oct. 24, 2017 in the United Kingdom and received its international debut the following January. On Facebook, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings called it the “most engaging addictive original wild show in a long time.” He’s not alone: The acclaim it has received has been fairly universal … ’til now.

Yes, End is well-written and clever. Yes, it offers moments of poignancy and hope as it tracks its underage lovers across southern England. But let us not lose sight of how abysmally terrible the content here is. It blends lots of sexual content (though no explicit nudity) with lots of violent content, and then augments all that with lots and lots of language. (One waggish IMDb reviewer said that it includes “pretty much all the profanity known to man.”) Alcohol and drugs are common accoutrements, as well.

And while this twisted comedy does have isolated moments of insight, they’re nestled within a bleak worldview and devastating, pitch-black tone. Hope? Forget it. This show suggests that every day is the end of the world, that our only solace is in the few friends we may find as we dance toward oblivion.

And let’s not forget that this show, despite its TV-MA rating, seems squarely aimed at teens—teens who may look into this virtual looking glass and see a little of themselves in Alyssa and James. Given the content we see here and the worldview peddled, that’s a mirror best kept covered.

Episode Reviews

End of the F*ing World: Jan 5, 2018 “Episode 1”

“I’m pretty sure I’m a psychopath,” James tells us in the first 15 seconds. After a few minutes more, we’re pretty sure he is, too. He selects his classmate Alyssa as his first human victim. (Or rather, she selects him to be her boyfriend, which makes it convenient.) But when she comes over to his house, takes off her shirt and lies (with her neck exposed) on a couch where James has conveniently hidden a knife, she suggests instead that they run off together. James agrees: He still plans on killing her, but reasons he doesn’t have to do so right away.

As they run, James punches his well-meaning father in the face and steals his car. In flashback, we see the corpses of several small animals—James’ previous “victims”—and hear him kill a cat. (The knife blow itself is blocked by a box, but the resulting silence tells us the deed was done.) In flashback, he sticks his hand in a deep-fat fryer; in the present day, his hand is covered with scar tissue from that incident.

Alyssa’s stepfather seems to have sexual designs on her: he suggests Alyssa start buying bigger bras, implying that he’s eyeing her chest. When they’re seemingly alone in a kitchen together, he tells her, “You look good when you make a bit of an effort, don’t you?” touching the small of her back as he speaks. (Alyssa’s mother quietly witnesses that creepy interaction but chooses to ignore it.)

Alyssa storms away, telling viewers, “I think being really angry and sad at the same time really turns me on.” She goes to James’ house and strips off her shirt, revealing her bra. Elsewhere, she passionately kisses him (who doesn’t return her smooches) and forces his hand to her breast. She touches the inside of his thigh. She asks him to perform oral sex on her. When they run into James’ father, he expresses relief that his son has, apparently, a girlfriend. “I thought he was gay! Which is fine, obviously,” he adds. Alyssa takes offense. “Maybe I’m gay,” she retorts. “Maybe he’s asexual. We’re dealing with a really broad spectrum these days.” James lies to Alyssa that he’s performed oral sex on females several times, and he admits to viewers that he masturbates once a week for “medical purposes.”

People drink wine and beer. Alyssa admires an old woman walking on the street, imagining that she “was probably a spy and had, like, 15 abortions when it was illegal or something.” Characters say the f-word seven times, the s-word six, the c-word once and also say “pr–k,” “p—y” and “d–khead.”

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email
Paul Asay
Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Latest Reviews

Drama

Council of Dads

NBC’s new show emulates This is Us and reminds us of the importance of fathers. But some of the show’s other issues may turn some families away.

Drama

The Letter for the King

The swords, sorcery and New Zealand scenery make this Netflix show feel a little like Lord of the Rings. But this fantasy falls short of fantastic.

Drama

Manifest

It offers a respite from TV’s turns toward the tawdry and traumatic, and that in itself is manifestly good.