If you’ve seen The End of The F***ing World there’s a good chance you’ll be under the impression that it’s a Netflix show. It isn’t. It’s a channel 4 production. When the show aired for the first time in October 2017, Channel 4 only aired the first episode on television making the rest available on their All4 platform. This is a strategy that always angers me and one that came to regret because when the show landed worldwide on Netflix it was showered in praise.
This time, learning from the mistakes of the past, Channel 4 are showing the eight episodes that make up this long-awaited second series in double bills after 10pm.
The success of the show is down to a number of things. The lead performances from Alex Lawther (James) and Jessica Barden (Alyssa) are pitch-perfect. Barden plays Alyssa as cold and ruthless but Barden brings a sensitivity and frailty to her which makes you fall completely under her spell and root for her in any given situation. Lawther’s James is someone desperate lonely who is looking for a place in the world. The duo have incredible chemistry and whenever the focus is on them the show sizzles. The writing from Charlie Covell is daring, razor-sharp, unique and utterly unpredictable. Although you fall under the spell of our leads, as a viewer you can never quite relax as there’s a sinister sense of unease that hangs over the series and every twist, turn or quick biting piece of dialogue knocks you about.
When I got to the end of the first series (I binged it all on All4 over the course of a very enjoyable afternoon) I felt in awe of the show. I couldn’t believe quite how connected I felt to these seemingly unlikeable teens who end up going on the run after accidentally murdering someone. It felt like nothing else this TV obsessive had seen before. Yes, their Peep Show style inner monologues had been done before, but here they added another dimension to the pair as they wrestled with what they were thinking which was so rarely what they ended up saying or doing. It was a brilliantly quirky and exciting love story that I loved.
Then, perhaps inevitably given its worldwide success on Netflix, a second series was confirmed. I had my misgivings. In my eyes, the first series ended perfectly and I wondered whether there was any story left to tell. So often when a series you love returns it can feel like a shadow of its former self. But, as I had hoped, I need not have worried.
The second series begins two years after we left James and Alyssa on the beach, not knowing whether the shot that rang out had injured or god forbid, killed James.
However, in a clever twist, which even though this show had conditioned me for, I still wasn’t expecting, the first episode doesn’t feature anyone from the first series but puts the focus on a pivotal new character, Bonnie played by Naomi Ackie. Even for a show that enjoys pulling the rug out from under its audience this a bold, brave and ballsy move. It, as with almost everything with the show, works masterfully.
When we meet Bonnie it is unclear how she fits into the world we’ve come to know. She’s a quiet person who has had traumatic upbringing at the hands of her domineering mother. It’s not entirely clear why we’re spending the first episode with her until she meets Dr. Clive Koch (Jonathan Aris), whom you might better remember as the existentialist author whose house Alyssa and James break into and end up murdering in the first series. Bonnie becomes obsessed with Koch and the pair have an unlikely relationship. However, Bonnie is unhinged and when she spots Koch with another woman, she snaps and in a brilliantly End of the F***ing world stylistic scene runs the unsuspecting girl down with her car. As she serves time in prison she gets word of Koch’s death and upon her release, she vows to track down those responsible. It is a testament to the writing, direction and performance from Ackie that you actually don’t miss James or Alyssa in this opener.
In the second episode, we see that Alyssa has moved on to. She’s back living with her mother (Christine Bottomley) and is preparing to marry her new boyfriend who she describes, as “kind of like a dog and a really good kisser.” Though we see she’s still haunted by the events of the first series by quick flashes of key scenes we’ve seen before, Alyssa seems to be as relaxed as Alyssa ever is.
But what of James? The last we saw him he was running for his life, across a beach as a gunshot rang out. He survived but has had to undergo a lot of operations and spent the majority of time in hospital. He has rebuilt his relationship with his Dad (Steve Oram) but is still missing Alyssa. When Alyssa’s mum visits him in the hospital she convinces him to write a letter with the aim of splitting the couple up for good.
One of the other things I was impressed by with this second series was the way writer Charlie Covell was able to bring them back together without it feeling shoehorned or contrived. This is done carefully with the two of them receiving a gift from Bonnie: a bullet with each of their names on. Though neither are that daunted dismissing it as being from ‘somebody we went to school with.” The pair have an awkward reunion. Alyssa appears to revel in telling James about her wedding and he pretends not to be still in love with her.
Oddly, as brilliant as Barden and Lawther are here I felt their chemistry didn’t work quite as well second time around. Barden’s deadpan delivery is still the highlight of the series, but for me, the series is at its best when the pair are working together as a united couple with us against the world attitude. As I type I’ve seen up to episode six and willing our unconventional lovers to come back together as I believe it’s their scenes together and make the show so special.
The introduction of Bonnie adds a further interesting dimension to the show. She’s a live wire you can never quite second guess. I didn’t want or need a second series of The End of The F***ing but I’m so F***ing glad we got one. This series manages to hold onto everything that made the first such a breakout hit whilst also feeling fresh and exciting. I just hope this time it gets the credit it is so richly deserving of.
The End of The F***ing World Continues at 10.00pm all week on Channel 4