The next romantic teen comedy with hit potential has a modified F-bomb in its title and two unconventional 17-year-old characters at its heart. He’s a self-diagnosed psychopath looking for his first murder victim. She’s his unwitting target with a destructive agenda of her own.
“The End of the F***ing World,” a TV series that premiered Friday on Netflix, joins a growing number of shows exploring the fringes of adolescent tumult. Among them: “Riverdale” (The CW), which plunged the gang from Archie Comics into a noir murder mystery; “Runaways” (Hulu), in which a group of high schoolers balance everyday angst with a friend’s death and burgeoning superpowers; and “13 Reasons Why” (Netflix), a teen suicide drama that made waves last year in schools and families.
Even “Stranger Things,” Netflix’s sci-fi series set in the 1980s, tapped into the trend by pitting a group of prepubescent children against a horror from another realm.
Maybe it’s due to an evolution of teen storytelling tropes, a reflection of uncertainty and anxiety in the real world, or an effort by producers to match the mind-set of young viewers who have already seen it all on the internet—but the genre is processing harsher stuff than the high-school crushes and crises that typified “Sixteen Candles” and other hormone-steeped classics of past generations.
“There’s more of an appetite to go to darker places,” says Charlie Covell, who wrote the “End of the F***ing World” TV series. She says teens are grappling with many of the same issues they always have—alienation, confusion, familial discord. Now, though, there’s an “open forum” for exploring them thanks to an explosion of content and a blurring of lines among genres.
“The End of the F***ing World” is based on a graphic novel published in 2013 by an American author and artist, Charles Forsman. Executive producer and director Jonathan Entwistledeveloped it as a TV series for Netflix and the U.K. network Channel 4, which aired it last fall. Its eight episodes come in binge-able installments of about 20 minutes each.
The TV series starts in a bland British suburb, where Alyssa (played by Jessica Barden) and James (Alex Lawther) are outsiders who use each other to test the identities they’ve invented for themselves. She acts the part of a promiscuous rebel. He considers himself coldblooded, a serial killer in the making.
The show shifts perspectives between the two characters, using their inner monologues to highlight the disconnect between what they say and what they think. As Alyssa and James go from odd couple to runaways to fugitives from the police, the story turns into a modern Bonnie-and-Clyde tale. Songs by Hank Williams, rockabilly singer Wanda Jackson and others bring echoes of past eras.
If the show’s title doesn’t immediately weed out squeamish viewers, the opening scenes could, as James describes a childhood of numbness and killing animals.
But the tone is more cartoonish than grim, with breezy narration and whimsical montages that seem to reference Wes Anderson films like “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums.”
“It’s not a laugh,” Ms. Covell says, “but it’s a wry moment that let’s you say, ‘OK, this is a comedy.’”
It’s not the first black comedy to mix teen emotion with homicidal urges. “Heathers,” a 1989 film starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater as star-crossed sweethearts who bump off high-school classmates, has been remade as a TV series that will appear on the Paramount Network in March.
Ms. Covell, 33 years old, says it wasn’t difficult to get back into the adolescent mind-set as she wrote.
“As a rule, everybody struggles as a teen, so the inner monologue is fairly indelible,” she says. “It doesn’t take much to tap into those old insecurities and paranoias.”
Write to John Jurgensen at email@example.com