It takes the same amount of time to “binge” the great new Netflix series The End Of The Fucking World as it does to just “watch” The Last Jedi. The British show’s eight episodes each clock in just shy of 22 minutes, including credit and opening sequences. End tells a considerably simpler story than any Star Wars movie, one that doesn’t fit neatly into episodes, so delivering it in TV-sized chunks seems arbitrary at best and calculated at worst: In a binge-prone world, maybe a so-called limited series just has a better chance at capturing the public’s ever-diluting attention. Breaking it into eight parts might encourage deeper discussion, or maybe provide a longer shelf life in a crowded Netflix home screen. Then again, when all eight episodes are available on the same day—which was the case when End debuted on Channel 4 in the U.K. last year and Netflix just this month—and can be gobbled down in less than three hours, what’s the point of splitting it up? Instead of commercial breaks, viewing is interrupted by credits that immediately shrink and a countdown to the next chapter. It adds nothing more than a forced snack or bathroom break, and in this case, disturbs the flow of a really good story.
Luckily the show itself can withstand the interruptions: The End Of The Fucking World (let’s ignore its sanitized F***ing, since that’s difficult to pronounce) is perfect Netflix fare circa 2018. A decade ago it might have been a Sundance hit that did decent box office, but piped directly into homes it will hopefully find a much larger audience. Based on Charles S. Forsman’s graphic novel of the same name, it’s a criminal road-trip movie with a couple of twists: Not only are James and Alyssa teenagers, he’s a budding psychopath who constantly fantasizes about murder and she’s a nihilistic rebel who just wants to fuck shit up. They’re matches and gasoline, and they’re only intermittently cute: Instead, they’re confused, damaged, and potentially dangerous, and the world that they encounter together is mostly unforgiving. It’s funny and sweet at moments, sure, like when Alyssa—played by Jessica Barden—takes out her frustrations on the owner of a gas station. But James—Alex Lawther of the unforgettable “Shut Up And Dance” episode of Black Mirror—is filled with bloody, violent thoughts that flash gruesomely on screen, especially in the early going. There’s always a sense that The End Of The Fucking World could go even darker. Without revealing too much, it does.
But it can’t make the argument, like so many prestige-TV series do, that it should be ingested as a “10-hour movie,” because in this case, it would just be asking you to treat it as a two-and-a-half-hour movie—what most people just call “a movie.” There are no clear sub-stories or B-plots here, no minor characters or byways to explore in dedicated episodes. Even Netflix’s excellent recent The Meyerowitz Stories—a standalone film directed by Noah Baumbach—would actually have made more sense in chapters, since its story is ostensibly divided among the various characters. The End Of The Fucking World, with some minor exceptions and backstory flashbacks, travels with its two main characters in a straight line. Why bother stopping their progress every 20 minutes?
And—again, without revealing too much—isn’t one hallmark of a television series its open-endedness, the idea that it introduces characters and situations that could potentially live forever? Though some fans who’ve binged it are clamoring for a second season on Twitter, The End Of The Fucking World would be done a massive disservice by attempting to continue its story. While it’s not wrapped with a neat bow, it ends, and ends satisfactorily—like good movies do, without the hope or unrealistic expectation that just because people seemed to like it, it should continue until it inevitably runs out of gas. If this were indeed a movie, demanding a sequel would seem ridiculous. Because it’s been deemed a TV show, its fate feels unnecessarily open-ended, though that’s a small, surface-level complaint about a high-quality show, and another reminder that we’re wading into new, blurry waters with regard to what constitutes television these days.
Then again, maybe The End Of The Fucking World is just the right show to live on such strange ground. Tonally, it’s one of the weirdest things you’ll see in 2018: It’s a gory comedy and a sideways drama, a love story about two people closed off from their feelings, a road-trip movie that nods to True Romance, and a rebellious young-adult adventure. There’s murder and mayhem and moments of real connection. It ought to be one of the most talked-about… somethings of the year.