Damien Love’s TV high­lights in­clud­ing Stranger Things

Sunday Herald Life - - CONTENTS - BY DAMIEN LOVE

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.

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