With a title like that, you can assume that you’re going to be watching something a little out of the ordinary. The Channel 4 adaption of Charles Forsman’s novel of the same name is certainly not your traditional drama; a quirky and dark sense of humour and a vision of modern suburban Britain filled with adults who are a mixture of clueless neanderthals, rude and misunderstanding authority figures or in the most extreme cases: sexual predators. The show is classified as a dark comedy drama and certainly fits that description with its horrific moments inter spliced with blunt language or an amusing inner monologue from one of our protagonists about just how buggered (not the word they use), they really are.
So what’s the premise? We follow the misadventures of two British seventeen year olds; James, played by Alex Lawther of ‘Black Mirror’ fame and Alyssa, portrayed by Jessica Barden, a relative unknown perhaps best known for her small role in ‘Penny Dreadful.’ The casting of both characters is spot on, with both relatively young and new actors performing their roles with an unbelievable level of believability. Both are sick of their dull lives in modern suburbia and strive to find some meaning in this mess we call life. In some ways, its a dark reflection of a tale typical of Disney, with our leads yearning for more understanding of the world and life outside of their safe, boring hometown. Of course they go about this in completely the wrong way; James is convinced, perhaps out of some sense of yearning for a singular identity, that he is a psychopath. He is quiet, has an unnerving lingering stare and a scarred hand from where he attempted to experience pain at a young age by shoving it into a fat fryer. Alyssa, conversely, is quite the opposite; loud, rude, abrasive and from perhaps the most depressing look at a modern family in recent years- a total facade of normality and happiness. Both decide in the first episode to jack their dull existence in, without any sort of a plan. The rest of the show follows them through each unfortunate encounter, leading up to a thrilling and cathartic finale. I shan’t spoil anything further.
Analysing the themes of TEOTFW is perhaps the most simple way of talking about it. Through following James and Alyssa, we, along with them begin to understand who they really are and what they’re really looking for, which is ultimately; someone who understands them and can help them find they’re place in the world. While very different, they ultimately complete each other and provide a level of understanding that no other character, least of all any adult, can comprehend. Not even likeable police officer, Yara Greyjoy, despite having sympathy for the duo can ultimately help or understand them, because she simply doesn’t have their messed up upbringings or lack of understanding the world around them. If TEOTFW is about anything, its about the discovery of real human emotions and experiences, in particular, the love of finding someone who just gets you. It’s quite beautiful and the acting that supports this revelation in the final episode, is sensational. None of this is said, by the way, but is merely inferred by the actions of the characters and shown through what they’re willing to go through for each other. The writer at the same time, seems to thrive on satirising adult culture. With the exception of the aforementioned police officer, all other adults are presented as clueless idiots or monsters for both of our protagonists to defeat and overcome.
TEOTFW is very clever in the way it presents these themes. It never outright has any character speaking these messages, in the same way as say, the characters in ‘The Dark Knight’ discuss the struggle of good vs evil, but rather, relies on fantastic subtext. Long, atmospheric scenes, often with minimal or simple dialogue give a visual representation of the feelings of the characters or the theme of the scene. Music is also plays a key part and the excellent soundtrack of existing songs are used very carefully in order to work within the scene. Often music is used as a juxtaposition tool to create humour, or a sense of slight discomfort in the audience. The soundtrack has an incredibly broad range of music from the 50’s, 60’s and even obscure genre specific tracks such as country music. It all works very well and gives the show a unique charm and likability, dissimilar to anything else on television.
All in all, TEOTFW is a triumph. I won’t go into plot details, as I feel its best to go into it fairly cold, with few expectations. I will however say, that with regards to a potential continuation; this should not happen. The ending leaves on a powerful and perfect note that supports the messages of the series and a second season would degrade and change these characters for the worse. The show has been successful, but the season is so tight and perfect as a piece of art, that it should be left alone to thrive as a weird, brilliant, self contained piece of television that stands alone. At only twenty two minutes an episode and eight episodes in total, its very easy to watch and binge on Netflix. If you’re a fan of atmosphere heavy, thematic pieces of media, this will be for you. If you’re there for some standard humour and background tv, it will not.