“I feel, I dunno, I feel comfortable with him,” is how 17-year-old Alyssa (Jessica Barden) describes her burgeoning relationship with James (Alex Lawther), another teenage misfit whom she met at school, in the first episode of The End of the F***ing World. “I feel sort of safe.” Unbeknownst to Alyssa, while she’s pondering her feelings, James is ferociously sharpening a hunting knife with a gleam in his eye, plotting how to kill her.
The concept of The End of the F***ing World—a heartwarming, quirky romance between a budding psychopath and a truculent, wounded teenager—feels a bit like a Wes Anderson screenplay that’s been rejected for being too dark. But the eight-part series, which arrives in a semi-surprise drop on Netflix Friday after debuting on the U.K.’s Channel 4, is a surprising tour de force, mashing up the pitch-black humor of British alternative comedies with the visual punch of an auteur-driven indie film. It’s also mercifully short. Individual episodes top out at around 20 minutes, making the series eminently bingeable, and giving it a taut, concise structure that more new shows could stand to mimic.
The series was reportedly born when its director, Jonathan Entwistle, glimpsed a scrap of discarded paper outside a comic-book store in London, which turned out to be a page from Charles Forsman’s comic series The End of the Fucking World. That publication was about a 17-year-old self-diagnosed psychopath and a lonely outcast who run away together. In the Netflix adaptation, James is played by Lawther, best-known for his role in the similarly dark Black Mirror episode “Shut Up and Dance.” After the loss of his mother, James—raised by a well-meaning but inept father—becomes morbidly fixated with death. Flashback scenes show him killing animals and thrusting his hand into a deep-fat fryer. “I wanted to make myself feel something,” he says.