‘The End of the F***ing World’ shatters teen romance tropes

Sunday, November 10, 2019 - 4:19pm

NOSELL

Netflix

Two years ago, British television network Channel 4 released a show on Netflix that said “screw you” to the teenage romance genre and made a fresh series about two teenagers who run away together. While it sounds “Moonrise Kingdom”-esque, there’s so much more that differentiates it from your average “Romeo and Juliet” adaptation. Those fateful two years ago, the show left off on a painstaking cliffhanger that left fans wondering whether the show was meant to end on an open-ended note. Then, “The End of the F***ing World” came back into the picture quite suddenly, with Netflix releasing its trailer only two weeks before the new season was to come. 

The show tells the tale of James (Alex Lawther, “Alex’s Dream”) and Alyssa (Jessica Barden, “Jungleland”), two teenagers from a small town who are learning to navigate through their unfortunate life circumstances. It has a cliché premise but strays far from tropes: In the first season, James thinks he’s a psychopath and aims to kill Alyssa, who at the time was a pessimistic, impulsive girl who dates James because he seems interesting. They run away together, kill a man whose house they were squatting in, run from the cops, fall in love and the rest is history. James gets shot at the end of Season One, and the curtains close. When we come back in Season Two, we’re introduced to Bonnie (Naomi Ackie, “The Corrupted”), a tortured woman who seeks out to avenge the death of the Professor Clive Koch (Jonathan Aris, “The War of the Worlds”), the man Alyssa and James killed, who, by the way, had previously tried to rape Alyssa and several other women. 

One of the main concerns with the new season was the looming question of whether it was even meant to exist. The entertainment industry, particularly streaming platforms, has a nasty habit of renewing television and movies until they’re way past overkill, which fortunately isn’t the case for this series. Season two maintains and enhances all the elements that season one had to begin with — the drama, the suspense, the unpredictability, the relatability and the comedic elements that imitate the comic book from which the show was adapted. They talk about how trauma impacts romantic relationships in ways that are hardly seen on television, and while James struggles to tell Alyssa that he still loves her after all the time apart, Alyssa says “I am not the answer,” making it clear that she can’t fix his trauma in the way that he expects her to. 

Identical to the first season, the second comes out with a short eight episodes, each a half-hour long. Both seasons can be easily binged in one full day of work or a long Friday night, but they’re nonetheless complex and three-dimensional. No important character is left behind — each one has a complex story behind their actions that was introduced in succinct ways that didn’t require the show to waste precious screen time. With a high production value, the show never slacks on providing us with effortless visual artistry and screenshot-worthy scene arrangements that add to the plot in ways that need no explanation. 

While they leave room for a season three, the way the show’s writers weave the plot together doesn’t call for one. They wrap up all the loose ends in a neat little bow, and all the unanswered questions from season one are presented smoothly and sensibly. It is unpredictable at every turn, but not enough for it to fly off the rails like some crime shows think they can get away with. You’ll find yourself empathizing with every character (except hopefully Clive Koch) in ways you wouldn’t expect, even characters like Bonnie who are conventionally “the bad guy.” It goes by so quick — there’s no reason not to watch this show during your office job or your boring lecture. It’s heartbreaking, hopeful, funny and all the other positive adjectives associated with good television and it’s definitely worth a snippet of your time.