The Creator of 'The End of the F***ing World' Reveals What's in Store for Season 2
This post contains spoilers from The End of the F***ing World.
The End of the F***ing World isn't your average teen drama.
The show, adapted from the popular Charles Forsman graphic novel of the same name, follows a 17-year-old named James as he tries to become the psychopath he thinks he is. In this series' twisted world, to murder means to mature. It's a dark and creepy coming-of-age story, but it also offers enough humor and tenderness to make it endearing. Or, as showrunner Jonathan Entwistle says, "It's an angsty teen story, but with an adult execution" -- the word "execution," in this case, carrying particular weight.
Entwistle has spent nearly 10 years adapting Forsman's work, ever since the former found a copy fortuitously thrown out in a London street. Here, we talk to Entwistle about where his inspiration for the tone came from, how the TV show differs from the source material, and what a second season could look like.
Thrillist: The show starts out very grim before taking a bit of a left turn. What kind of conversations did you and writer Charlie Covell have in terms of making a 20-minute pilot that would have to be dark without being a complete turn-off?
Jonathan Entwistle: We always envisaged the arc of the story sticking quite closely to Chuck's original comic, which itself has quite a movie-like story arc. So we always knew Episode 1 was going to be weird, right? It's the weirdest of the book in many ways. Episode 2 by comparison is much softer: they travel farther, there's a sad scene. But Episode 1 is literally like, Bang! This show is weird! And you're either into it or you're not. People seem to be into it because we executed it in a certain way. It doesn't necessarily have charm, but it's not quite a gritty show. Yes, we murder people, we murder animals, we murder everything. And we have creepy dudes and we have weird dudes. But nothing's ever done with a scary angle. What I'd always wanted to be able to do was stab someone in the neck and have it be funny. That's really hard to do.
How do you do that?
We worked very hard to be in a kind of Coen brothers or Tarantino world, where you have crazy things going on, but it's not pretentious. I think it comes from the way you control the humor through the characters, through the art direction, even through the way it's shot. It all goes into the mix of making you think it's not too artsy or too weird.
The stabbing scene you have in the show feels more like happenstance than the one in the source material, which is a bit more premeditated. Why make that change?
I know that Charlie was always aware we needed to unpack this weird stuff and make sure it was happening in a grounded world. The way we worked together was she always knew I was going to execute in a certain way, so it gave her the freedom to write in a way that was slightly more sentimental than you'd expect because she knew it was going to be executed in a way that was so deadpan. I think that's the sweet spot of the show, and what you described earlier is a good example -- we're always flipping it around. We needed James to be extremely dark in Episode 1 so that in Episode 3 when he finally does kill someone he realizes that it's not right.
I liked the coincidental element of the TV show's kill because it made James' epiphany clearer: He's not numb, just lonely.
Yeah, I think he's lonely, and he's equated those feelings to the concept of being the psychopath he thinks he should be. His mother's suicide left something in him that he and his dad have ignored -- he can't unpack it himself until he meets Alyssa. He's experimenting with the idea of killing things to get him over this trauma -- he kills a bat, snakes, mice, and a hamster, and he's gotten to the point where he meets Alyssa and he's like, Well, obviously, I'm going to kill a human because that's just what people like me do. But then he doesn't. Or he does. But technically he does it to save somebody, and it's exactly that type of conundrum that's left in the show. And it's funny, right?
A lot of people have taken the show way more seriously than I think it is. The number of people that have talked to me about animal cruelty when we kill a man is… really weird. I'm just like, We're murdering a human and everyone's bothered about the damn cat in the box? It's really interesting to me that people care more about that because we all thought the animal stuff was kind of funny, the way he creates this version of himself, that's like a stereotypical psychopath. The show drives a fine line between really dark stuff and quite slapstick humor.
There's a lot of humor in unexpected places, like when Alyssa rebuffs Topher.
Yeah, I was adamant from the beginning that we weren't going to make a show with teenagers with six-packs, taking off their shirts and making out. There are too many shows like that. I wanted to make a show where they didn't have sex. Sex is the least important thing in this show. If anything, we've kind of made a platonic show. I'm so bored of movies and shows where it's like, Oh, obviously that's the love interest and that's the guy.
That moment, and a couple others, have also received lots of attention given the reckoning that's been happening in the entertainment industry today. How did this scene -- which isn't in the original -- come about?
It was sort of in the very, very late writing stages that we realized taking the sex out of the show was going to make it really strong, and it was from that that we realized she's obviously not going to have sex with Topher. Since Jess basically is Alyssa in real life -- in fact, she's more chill in the show than she is in real life -- it was like, Well, it's just Alyssa's response, isn't it? There was never really a conversation about it. Charlie wrote that amazing scene, and the element of consent just came naturally from Alyssa and Jess on the day.
Another big divergence from the source material is the new team of detectives, noticeably not satanists. Where did these characters come from?
Early on, we toyed with the idea that we were going to bring the whole element of the satan-worshipping cult and all that weird stuff into the show, but in the end, we felt that with budget constraints, working in the UK, and making it the best thing we could, it made more sense to make a beautiful little story that focused more on James and Alyssa. We still needed a small added element. What we really wanted to add to the show was this sort of slightly suburban noir element, and I think we didn't really have the scope to push as much of that as I wanted to, but I absolutely love these characters.
When we first meet them halfway through Episode 4, I just think it's beautifully shot and it's funny. We wanted like a British Columbo, who was slightly lame and was going to piece [the crime] together. [Gemma Whelan] was just amazing because she's so funny, and she played it so sort of straight in a weird world. I think it's a testament to Charlie's writing that we got gay characters where the story isn't about them being gay. It's so easy to write something about them being gay, but actually it's never really touched upon in the show -- which is a testament to a quality and a boldness in her writing. I hope people will see that our show is not a million miles away from what's in the comic, although it is essentially completely different.
One of my personal favorite elements is the music -- these songs really suit the characters.
For me, music is so key. Whenever I'm working on a script, every movie needs an R.E.M. moment, where it's like somebody walks through the rain and "Everybody Hurts" plays. I feel that people try and use music in the wrong way, mostly.
I think music can afford you to be incredibly straight and on the nose. Certainly, with this show I think we can get away with stuff that others can't. Like we can play a ridiculous track and we can play it in a certain way, and it works the more straight it is. We've got "Oh Daddy," by Fleetwood Mac, over the scene where a dad is doing something weird. That's so basic, but it works really, really well within the show. Chuck and I actually have a 10-year-old playlist from when I first found the comics, where he's been sending me stuff. It's got 700 tracks in it! Even when Charlie came on board, she wrote a lot of music cues into the script.
I just think the saddest music in the world is that '50s ballad. It's sad, it's weird, and it's the birth of the teenager. It also has that dreamy, creepy, Twin Peaks thing going on, which just sort of works for me. I recently watched Season 2 of Fargo and the way the music works in there just blows my mind. So for me, that was my inspiration: finding interesting tracks that weren't expensive, that were like B-sides in 1958. We haven't made a Juno, we haven't made a mumblecore show, we've sort of hit somewhere in between that, and I think the music, and Graham Coxon's original score, goes a long way to help that.
The aspect of the show I've heard criticized the most is the open-ended finale. Why did you decide to end it the way you did? And were there any alternate endings?
We didn't have any alternate endings -- we just took it as far as we felt we could. The ending is really interesting because the comic is definitive, and we wanted to be definitive without being definitive, right? Charlie was very adamant that we stick closely to the comics, and I think we worked a way out. (We actually did a few things where we kept the framing quite close to Chuck's book. Some of his framing is so good and cinematic that we just copied it -- like the final scene, with James and Alyssa.) But it's kind of nice that people are annoyed by the ending. I feel like it ends the way it started, where people are like, Who are these really insane people? And at the end, they're like, I can't believe what's happened! It's kind of us having a bit of a joke in a way. I hope that it leaves the show open for expanding the world.
I would have thought this was for sure a one-and-done series, but does that mean you want to do a Season 2?
Every day, I get thousands of social media messages about, When is Season 2 happening? Or, I have an idea for Season 2! It's constant, but then I've also seen the series of press and reviews from the slightly older viewers where they're like, You can't make a Season 2 because it would do this, this, and this. All these conversations are valid. So we're looking at what the people who loved the show are saying, to see how we can unpack that and how we could continue the tone of the show. Because I think that is so crucial: Without the comic as a backbone -- we've essentially finished Chuck's story -- how do we execute the world of The End of the Fucking World and still keep it fresh and exciting?
Your situation isn't unprecedented -- 13 Reasons Why was another hit that had limited source material and went on to get a Season 2. Where would you like to see the show go?
For me, it's about James and Alyssa -- and I think that's what people have connected with. I think a Season 2 would have to involve James and Alyssa somehow. I just love the world of them out there on the road, doing something in a weird world. So for me, any story that we expand keeps them out there somewhere.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
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Sean Fitz-Gerald is a staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. Find him on Twitter: @srkfitzgerald.