Everyone Else Burns review: Channel 4 sitcom about an apocalypse-obsessed cult is a comedy worth believing in

Simon Bird, Amy James-Kelly, and Kate Flynn star in Everyone Else Burns, an entertaining Channel 4 comedy about an apocalypse-obsessed cult

<p>Harry Connor as Aaron, Kate O’Flynn as Fiona, Simon Bird as David, and Amy James-Kelly as Rachel in Everyone Else Burns, sat on an old sofa (Credit: Channel 4)</p>

Harry Connor as Aaron, Kate O’Flynn as Fiona, Simon Bird as David, and Amy James-Kelly as Rachel in Everyone Else Burns, sat on an old sofa (Credit: Channel 4)

The Lewises are a typical nuclear family. David (Simon Bird) works in a sorting office, organising parcels and diverting letters; Fiona (Kate O’Flynn) is his stay-at-home wife, though she’s thinking about starting a business of her own. Their youngest son Aaron (Harry Connor) likes to draw – it’s a distraction from the bullying – and their oldest daughter Rachel (Amy James-Kelly) is starting to think about going to university, maybe to study medicine. The only thing that sets them apart from any other family, really, is their unwavering conviction that the apocalypse is nigh and the world is about to end.

Everyone Else Burns follows devotees of the Holy Order of the Divine Rod, a fundamentalist Christian sect awaiting Armageddon. They’re puritanical and pedantic, hypocritical and hierarchical, slavishly following the rules and dedicated to spreading the good word – door to door preaching is a priority and an expectation. (“Most parents would be pleased,” says Rachel when David and Fiona are unimpressed at her straight A grades, annoyed she spent time revising rather than evangelising. “Most parents will be dead forever,” they reply.) They’re loosely inspired by real life denominations – series co-creator Dillon Mapletoft was raised as a fundamentalist Christian, and there are obvious parallels to Jehovah’s Witnesses – but the Holy Order feels like its own distinct group soon enough.

Immediately, Everyone Else Burns takes on quite a heightened, exaggerated vibe – ridiculous in exactly the way that befits an apocalypse-obsessed cult. It’s quickly clear the cast are having a ball with it – Al Roberts of Stath Lets Flats is fantastic as the self-styled cool Elder, openly disliked by his more conservative peers – but its probably Simon Bird who benefits most from Everyone Else Burns’ more idiosyncratic stylings. Bird is, and he’d probably agree, a stronger writer/director than he is an actor (his film The Days of the Bagnold Summer is worth a look if you’ve not seen it), and his two most high-profile roles to date often felt like, however well-executed, just iterations on the same basic character.

In Everyone Else Burns, however, Bird gets the chance to push the Will McKenzie/Adam Goodman character in a different direction. There are similarities, certainly, but the inherent absurdity of the Holy Order of the Divine Rod lets Bird play it in a different register – it helps that he’s older, it helps that he’s playing the dad rather than the awkward son, and it helps a lot that (especially towards the end of the series) Everyone Else Burns gives him more earnestly felt material beyond the jokes than he ever really got in either previous show. David is unlikely to entirely dislodge Will or Adam in the popular imagination, and honestly might not even join them, but the character does offer Bird a genuine chance to show what more he can do.

Ali Khan as Joshua and Amy James-Kelly as Rachel in Everyone Else Burns, sat opposite one another (Credit: Channel 4)

What it’s not, though, is the Simon Bird show – much as press and reviews (this one included admittedly) have perhaps painted it as such. Underneath all the idiosyncrasies, setting aside the inherent absurdity of the Divine Order, Everyone Else Burns is about all the standard worries that animate a family sitcom: growing up, moving on, one generation coming of age and another coming to terms with that. It’s the sort of thing, in short, that wouldn’t work without a well-rounded ensemble – like Kate O’Flynn as Fiona, bending the rules even as she’s terrified to break them, or Harry Connor (brother of Kit?) as Aaron, even more of a devout hardliner than the rest of his family, convinced he’s the only one pious enough to be saved.

The standout of the cast, though, is Amy James-Kelly as oldest daughter Rachel. Everyone Else Burns begins with Rachel already frustrated with the order – she wants to be able to study not sermonize, she wants a mobile phone from this century, she wants broader horizons than were afforded to her mother – and having a chance encounter with a former member, now ostracised by the church. The slow building friendship-and-maybe-more between Rachel and the excommunicated Joshua (Ali Khan, excellent) proves the spine of Everyone Else Burns – James-Kelly and Khan are a sweet pair, lending the show an endearing quality that holds the jokes together with something more substantial.

What’s interesting about Everyone Else Burns, in the end, is that after a few initial cheap shots (you can’t not have at least a few cheap shots, it’d just be a waste) it settles into something approaching ambivalence about the Divine Order. There’s a bleakness and an underlying anxiety, but also a strange sort of warmth and community, and for all their flaws David and Fiona do care about their children. Cynically, you could maybe attribute that in part to someone having half an eye on a second series – which, hopefully, will be commissioned – but it does also feel like there’s a genuine commitment to complexity there.

Ultimately, Everyone Else Burns is an impressive debut – both for writers Oliver Taylor and Dillon Mapletoft, and for Channel 4 as its debut comedy of 2023. There’s times maybe where it could stand to have a little more energy, or where perhaps it would benefit from a little more willingness to blow up its own premise, but as it is it’s creative and funny. Maybe not a miracle, but worth believing in all the same.

Everyone Else Burns begins on Channel 4 at 10pm on Monday 23 January, with every episode available on All4 as part of a boxset. I’ve seen all six episodes before writing this review. You can read more of our TV reviews here.