Damien Love’s TV highlights including Stranger Things
Tuesday The End Of The F***ing World 10.20pm, Channel 4
THE biggest event on TV this week is the Halloween return of Netflix’s Stranger Things (see Friday), but, aside from teaser trailers, they’re keeping the new series under wraps until after these pages go to press, ruling out a longer preview. This, though, allows the opportunity to spotlight a smaller new show, also seasonably morbid and macabre, that’s an odd, half-hidden little gem.
Made up of eight short episodes, The End Of The F***ing World (TEOTFW) is based on a bleak and sweet comic book by American artist Charles Forsman, which the adapters, writer Charlie Covell and director Jonathan Entwistle, have done a good job of translating into something weirdly, hazily British, while remaining faithful to the source. Forsman’s original is grungier, where the TV version is more goth, both in terms of wearing black, and in being more strangely romantic, albeit in a repressed way.
It helps that Forsman’s story, which follows the misanthropic misadventures of two angsty, outsider teens, is universal. Navigating the uncertain terrain between adolescence and adulthood, and dismayed by the evidence of all the adults around them, the feelings, lack of feelings, fears and frustrations of the lead characters, James and Alyssa, will be recognisable in teenage bedrooms from Pennsylvania to Penicuik. Indeed, it’s one of those stories that keeps getting told over and over again. Echoes, references and direct, hat-doffing steals abound: traces of books like The Catcher In The Rye, movies through Badlands to Harold And Maude to Heathers, comics like Daniel Clowes’s modern classic Ghost World. One of the strangest things about seeing the show on Channel 4, in fact, is how closely it resembles in outline another series the channel made more fuss over earlier this year, Born To Kill, the drama about a teenage boy with psychotic fantasies, whose obsession with killing leaks into real life.
To start, TEOTFW is like a snottier, black comedy mirror of that. James (Alex Lawther) is another budding teen psychopath – blank and isolated, hiding secrets, traumas and violent notions, he’s graduated from self-harming to killing small animals, and is now considering murdering something bigger. Enter Alyssa (Jessica Barden), a new girl at school, consumed by her disappointment in the other girls, her mother and her hateful step-dad. In James’s silent, loner figure, she thinks she’s found a sensitive kindred spirit. Meanwhile, he’s sizing her up as his first human victim, fingering the knife hidden in his boot. Soon they are off on the road together, fleeing their despised town in a stolen car. At the end of the line, perhaps, lies Alyssa’s secretly longed-for reunion with her missing father. Before that, though, well, things take a strange and bloody twist. Forsman’s drawing is clean and simple, in the graphic tradition of Peanuts or Calvin & Hobbes. Occasionally, Entwistle’s direction affectionately replicates panels from the book, but, while stylised (hints of Wes Anderson), he opens things out more naturalistically, creating a washed-out, spacy, strangely retro British suburbia world, all 1970s modern, with 1950s Americana pop on the soundtrack. Sometimes the references are too blatant, sometimes the black comedy doesn’t work. But as the show develops, its awkwardness grows more in keeping with the confused attitudes of James and Alyssa. Lawther and Barden are fantastic. Both are somewhat older than the characters, but pass easily for 17. Sweet, unsettling, obnoxious, smart, naïve, horrible and vulnerable, sometimes all at once, theirs is a strange little journey. Following episode one’s debut on Channel 4, all episodes are online at All 4.