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'The End of the F***ing World' is a Different Sort of Teen Dramedy
January 5, 2018  | By David Hinckley

James and Alyssa, the main characters of the new Netflix dramedy The End of the F***ing World, are a Bob Dylan kind of couple.

Specifically, they could have walked right out of Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna”: “Little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously / He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously.”

That’s James (Alex Lawther, top). That’s also Alyssa (Jessica Barden, top). And all they really want to do is find a reason to believe. They just have a hard time finding one, which is what “each other” is supposed to be for, except with these British teens, that would be way too easy.

The End of the F***ing World, whose eight episodes become available Friday on the streaming service, is a British adaptation of Charles S. Forman’s comic series. While print-to-video can be a much harder transition than it sounds, Barden, in particular, captures pretty much everything you’d want in Alyssa.

Lawther’s task is more difficult since James wanders through life in a state of near-catatonia. His action is almost all internal, which is not to say it’s abstract navel-gazing. The opening scene has James musing on his growth as a psycho-killer, how he started with the neighbor’s cat, honed his craft and now that he’s 17 feels it’s time to graduate to humans.

As this suggests, he’s a natural for the lead in a comedy series.

Alyssa isn’t that unhinged, but like James, she feels detached from high school and most of the world around her. She approaches James in a moment of maximum misanthropy, and the rest of their adventure falls into place through random events that quickly escalate way beyond anything they planned or envisioned.

Alyssa feels trapped at home because her mother, whom she used to like, got divorced and then married Tony, a sleazy guy who’s a little too hands-on. Alyssa now has twin half-siblings she’s expected to help babysit and doesn’t dislike the kids. She just feels like she’s stuck on a one-way street in a dead-end town.

Her main escape is her father, with whom her only contact since he left nine years ago is that he sends her an annual birthday card. Those cards become her escape, the blank slate onto which she can project all the exotic thrills and fun her tangible life lacks.

James lives with his father, a sort of jovial idiot who has no idea what to do with his silent son. James gets along with the rest of the world, his father included, by nodding a lot.

His attraction to Alyssa – this is the premise, not a spoiler – is that she might be a good person to kill.

As comic fodder, it just keeps getting better, right?

So he starts hanging around with her, and when she suggests they take his father’s car and run away, he nods.

At first, they have no idea what to do or where to go, except they want to liberate themselves from this awful town and its dull wooden people. This turns them into a teeny-tiny version of Bonnie and Clyde, and we know from the original Bonnie and Clyde that things can and will escalate.

As they do, Alyssa makes the decision we’d expected all along. She’s going to find Daddy. James nods. Of course.

By this point, The End of The F***ing World could go in a hundred directions, most of them sideways, and if you like your comedy dark, or black, you’ll want to stay for the ride.

Episodes run in the 18- to 22-minute range, and they go by fast, always a good sign. Our two main characters are way too lost to bring it all back home in any easy or timely fashion, but we like them enough that we just hope whatever they find won’t all seem too cruel.

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