Thanks to my deep suspicion of men who keep a head torch to hand – believe me, such mistrust is far from irrational – I knew straight away that David Lewis, the character played by Simon Bird in Channel 4’s new sitcom, Everyone Else Burns, must be a pompous wazzock; his over-the-top night-vision equipment, worn in the first moments of the first episode, was far more of a giveaway than his silly haircut, which makes him look like the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (have a google: you’ll soon see what I mean). But even I couldn’t have imagined just how pompous and wazzock-like.
The glorious history of the British sitcom bulges with pontifical twits, from Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army onwards. But usually these men – they’re nearly always male, and with good reason – are a foil for those around them. The trouble with Dillon Mapletoft and Oliver Taylor’s show is that because the Lewis family are all members of an extreme Christian sect (attentive viewers, and even inattentive ones, will notice that it strongly resembles the Jehovah’s Witnesses), virtually all its characters are sententious to a degree, the sole exceptions being their divorcee neighbour, Melissa (Morgana Robinson), and Miss Simmonds (Lolly Adefope), the mildly subversive teacher who’s determined to help their daughter Rachel (Amy James-Kelly) escape to the fiery pit that is university. Mapletoft and Taylor’s script is very clever, if you’re in the market for smart-aleck references to Revelations. But it’s also a bit one-note. Hell, you begin to think, may not be other people, but other people trying to make jokes about hell.
[See also: Exposing the internet’s false prophets]
David is a sorting office whizz who works, suitably befleeced, for a delivery company somewhere in Manchester. But his heart isn’t in it. He has two dreams. First, that the Apocalypse arrives soon, at which point the Lewises will be able to watch, via their own personal window, everyone else frying (he’s always practicing for the End Days, usually in the middle of the night – hence the head torch). Second, that while he waits for this to happen, he’ll be made a church elder. Unfortunately, the other elders think he’s an idiot, not least because he believes stuff that they (secretly) don’t. Creepy Abijah (Al Roberts), for instance, even drinks Coca-Cola, a drink David avoids like the plague unless caffeine-free (stimulants are forbidden). They’d rather promote Andrew (Kadiff Kirwan), previously a member of the Prestwich Chapter.
David’s son Aaron (Harry Connor) is even more rabid than him, a kind of incel for God, and while his daughter Rachel might be about to get frisky with a shunned member of the church, for the moment she still stoically performs her preaching duties. Only his miserable, sexless wife Fiona (Kate O’Flynn) shows any sign of renegade tendencies thus far. Egged on by Melissa, who loves to brag about her new kitchen worktops, she’s been busy flogging hideously practical yellow bags to the congregation, nylon jobs in which they can keep their ministry pamphlets. But even if capitalism suits her, she’s still dead behind the eyes, as you would be if you were married to a bearded man who deals in certainties and wears a head torch (sorry, I’m obsessed).
Sitcoms are all about enclosed worlds, whether a Torquay hotel or a flat in Peckham, a prison cell or Downing Street; the smaller, the better. On paper, Everyone Else Burns sounds great. But like so many supposedly funny shows just lately, it’s not funny enough – or funny at all, sometimes. For a show that thinks it’s edgy comedy, it’s oddly predictable: David’s car will fail to start just as he’s trying escape his nemesis, or he’ll destroy an object five seconds after being told it’s precious. I like Simon Bird, but his character here is basically a reprise of Will from The Inbetweeners with added Bible verses. And where’s the love? The show wants for warmth: a feeling which may have something to do with the fact that, on the evidence of what I’ve seen, no one involved with it can even so much as countenance the idea that a person with faith (or, perhaps, that a person with a Christian faith) could be anything less than a complete and utter lunatic. That, or a Coke-drinking charlatan.
Everyone Else Burns
23 January, 10pm, Channel 4; available on catch-up
This article appears in the 25 Jan 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Why Germany doesn’t do it better