The End of the F***ing World
There are classic signs that signal a truly great television series. A feeling of impatience and anticipation as the clock ticks down the minutes before an episode starts. A feeling of the real world disappearing while the show plays out. A feeling of loss when each episode finishes, unless you’re streaming it, on Netflix, when that feeling is replaced by one of guilt as you stay seated and simply let the next episode run, and then the next, until there are no more. Then the final sense of loss is replaced by simple exhaustion.
There are just a few times in my life when I’ve started watching a new show and been immediately aware that I am bearing witness to something groundbreaking. The first was Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Each new episode was so startlingly original and funny. I literally counted down the days and hours and minutes before each airing. I still remember hating the moment when the episode was over, always hoping that it would be one of the occasional false endings and there would be a little postscript sketch to finish with. My heart used to sink upon the realisation that the half hour was truly up and I’d have to wait a whole week for my next fix. I doubt that any comedy will ever have the same impact again. I don’t see how any could.
The next time was watching Friends. I’d read about it somewhere and tuned in with the wife from the very first episode that was aired here in the UK. There was something immediately appealing about it that struck a chord, just an easy-going charm and wit at the outset, but growing into something much more profound as those six characters wormed their way into our consciousness. They became our friends, who dropped by our living room once a week. For the boys, it became the soundtrack to their lives. They were familiar with the voices from being babies and as they grew up they were able to understand and appreciate more and more. There can barely be a relationship issue that wasn’t dealt with at some point during its run. I like to think that it provided the kind of education that they didn’t get from their academic studies. When I was with Roam last week, he had it playing in the background via Netflix, where every episode is now available to stream. It remains the soundtrack to his life, like putting on a favourite piece of music. He and Forrest have always boasted that they know every line and I was able to put Roam to the test. He passed. He could finish every sentence. Again, I doubt that any comedy will have that kind of universality again. There is too much competition now. There are just too many good shows competing for our attention.
The third and last time was watching Breaking Bad. I’d read about that show too and watched from the first episode, before the buzz around it started to build. My interest was mainly alerted because my younger brother teaches Chemistry, just like Walter White, and I thought it would appeal to him. I had no idea when I started watching that it would be quite so dark. The storyline, the writing, the pace, the production values - all suggested that this was a very special TV event. And so it proved. It’s hard to see a show having that kind of impact again. But one will, at some point I’m sure. I hope to once more be wowed to that level - although it’s getting harder and harder as our expectations rise.
It came close this morning, watching the final episode of The End of the F***ing World, having just managed to tear myself away last night. The tale of two seventeen-year-olds from severely dysfunctional families, drawn to each other through their nihilism, and taking a road trip together that goes wrong in some pretty horrific ways. It’s not a bundle of fun, but it is extremely, darkly funny, and strange and poignant, and ultimately full of humanity. It’s brilliant. The two young leads are amazing. On Netflix, if you dare!