This is a spoiler-free series two review (contains series one spoilers) based on the first four episodes.
Inside the pages of Charles Forsman’s The End Of The F***ing World comics, outsiders James and Alyssa will be forever where they were left – James shot by the police and Alyssa carving his name into her arm with a pin. Frozen between the gutters of Forsman’s drawings, they’ll never grow older than 17, never get jobs or go to university or get married. They won’t have to learn about responsibility or face the consequences of their bloody road-trip.
TV-Alyssa can’t say the same. For Channel 4’s second series, she’s been broken out of the frame and much to her dismay, her existence continues. (The show’s creators are keen to keep James’ fate a surprise; you won’t learn it here.) For Alyssa, adulthood is looming, as is a nagging sense that she’s not okay.
While series one made character additions and changes to the comics plot, series two largely leaves it behind. Satisfyingly in a year that’s seen TV adaptations struggle when they depart from their source material, The End Of the F***ing World breaks that trend. Series two tells a new story that maintains the offbeat rhythm and peculiar style that made the first run a cult hit. Fans can breathe out now – bringing it back wasn’t a mistake.
Far from it. Returning to this world two years later lets the show intensify its idiosyncratic perspective by applying it to a new stage of life. Everything the first series had to say about disconnection and love is explored just as fiercely in this new context. Nothing’s been softened. If adolescence was hard, then adulthood is even more alienating. Grief, depression, guilt, trauma, pain and vengeance are shot through the episodes.
If anything, the pain is louder this time around, perhaps because, in true The End Of the F***ing World style, it’s mostly been outsourced to the soundtrack while the characters lie about how they’re really feeling. Blur’s Graham Coxon has supplied more rolling Americana for the score, but the starring role goes to the 1960s love songs that contain all the yearning, loneliness and heartbreak the characters can’t articulate.
They’re still a terrifically inarticulate bunch. A complete antidote to the glib, clever motor-mouths of US teen shows, the dialogue is laconic and stylistically condensed. Alyssa’s limited vocabulary and naïve expressions are a punchline in themselves. Nobody delivers a “shit” like Jessica Barden, or a smile that doesn’t reach the eyes.
The dialogue’s deliberate lack of sophistication isn’t just played for laughs, it’s also a vehicle for beautiful sentiment that can knock you over with simple truth. Every so often, the characters express something complex so succinctly and with such childlike candour that it takes on an epigrammatic quality. Unsophistication becomes, perversely, sophistication. It’s clever stuff from writer Charlie Covell, who’s forged a strongly identifiable voice across both series.
The dialogue here rests on rhythm, and to thank for that we have the cast and Lucy Forbes (who directed the episodes available to preview, with Destiny Ekaragha taking over for the final four). Jessica Barden hits each laugh in Alyssa’s hostile, sarcastic delivery, while new cast members Naomi Ackie and Tim Key get the show’s disquieting cadence right from the start. A word in praise of the always-funny Christine Bottomley, incidentally, as Alyssa’s desperately damaged mum Gwen.
Series two is as cine-literate as the first and pinches tastefully from all over. The locations are still Tarantino, Fargo and Twin Peaks (as recreated mostly in Port Talbot, Wales), while it feels like homage is paid to all the greats of the misfit genre – Harold And Maude, Heathers, Wes Anderson… blended with the humour and visual language of brown 1970s British bungalows.
Telling one story and almost all picking up immediately after the previous left off, the episodes are designed to binge. Ranging around 20 minutes each, they don’t outstay their welcome, making sure that the knowing coolness of it all doesn’t get overpowering. Bleakness and sourness are brightened by dark humour and the whole dark thing is warmed by the desperate longing for love and connection at the heart of these characters, who more than justify their return.
The End Of The F***ing World series two airs at 10pm on Channel 4 Monday to Thursday this week, and is available to stream on All 4.