The End of the F***ing World, Fleabag, Peep Show… there seems to be little that connects these three acclaimed shows in terms of plot and characters. There is, however, one striking feature that runs through each of these unique series. That feature is the voice of the awkward and unrelenting internal monologue.
In case you are not caught up, the internal monologue is the snippets we get into what the character is really thinking. We’re talking about the moments when Fleabag tells the guy she is sleeping with that he is amazing before looking directly into the camera and telling us that it’s doing nothing for her. This breaking of the fourth wall allows us to experience two sides of Fleabag – the role she plays in her day to day life and the more authentic character of her mind.
This method of character development in television has been used in many shows over the past decade. Recently, Orange Is The New Black toyed with the technique, offering snippets into the thoughts of Litchfield’s inmates. While some enjoyed the insight, others found the random narration contrived and jarring.
The use of the internal voice is something that was introduced to literature during the modernist movement in the late 1800s. You may recall James Joyce’s Ulysses in which the narrator shares every thought he has for the duration of a single day. Although this may sound tedious, what Joyce offered at the time was groundbreaking. Once upon a time, the protagonist’s anxiety was expressed through the beating of a heart or a tight feeling in the chest. Following Ulysses, this anxiety became something quietly confessed through the protagonist’s internal monologue.
Now, the first-person narrator is not uncommon in literature, but it’s still surprising when it’s used in television. The internal monologue allows us to see not just what characters are doing, but what they are thinking and feeling too. There is a profound aspect of honesty in this that somehow makes the audience feel a little less alone. When we see End of the F***ing World‘s Alyssa struggle to tell James how she really feels or Peep Show‘s Mark mentally punish Jez, it is a comforting reminder that we are not as weird as we think we are. Everyone finds themselves at odds with their thoughts sometimes and deep down, human nature is a lot more awkward than a cheesy drink-spill in a generic romcom. Deep down, we’re all a little bit clueless and that is absolutely ok.