Everyone Else Burns on Channel 4 review – who knew eternal damnation could be this fun?

In the suburbs of Manchester, the apocalypse is underway.

At four o’clock in the morning, the patriarch of the Lewis family heaves his complaining wife and children out of bed, tells them to pack for every eventuality and leads them on a three-hour hike into the hills outside the city.

As Rachel, the daughter, vomits from anxiety, Dad reveals that this was, in fact, a test: prepping them for when the big day does actually arrive. Surprise!

That’s the basic premise of Everyone Else Burns – and oh, boy, is it a fun one. The family are evangelical Christians (of a very particular sort), part of the fictional Order of the Divine Rod, and committed to the belief that the end of the world is absolutely nigh, and that sinners will burn. It’s a rich seam, and the scriptwriters (Dillon Mapletoft and Oliver Taylor) dig deep.

David, the patriarch, is the centre of the mayhem, played with deranged gusto and a severe bowl cut by Simon Bird, who seems to have taken his Wil-from-the-Inbetweeners personality and dialled it up to eleven. Over the course of several episodes, David attempts to convert a struggling non-believer by breaking his expensive coffee table, fanatically seeks a promotion to the role of Church Elder and cuts the power to the house several times so that his exasperated wife Fiona has to stop using the family computer.

Deranged gusto: Simon Bird as David Lewis (Channel 4)
Deranged gusto: Simon Bird as David Lewis (Channel 4)

He’s not the only one with a lot on his plate. Fiona (magnificently played by Kate O’Flynn, with the world’s most impressive poker face) is attempting to reclaim some independence by selling off their divorced neighbour Melissa’s ugliest old possessions to fellow church-goers, while their son Aaron (Harry Connor) is nursing an internal rage that manifests in beautiful paintings of his father suffering in the afterlife.

The humour is whip-smart and often bizarre. One gag involves David’s seemingly superhuman ability to sort mail at the delivery office, weighing items by hand and tossing packages into the correct baskets with abandon – would that the same energy were channelled over the Christmas period – to the sighing adoration of his co-workers.

But there’s also a lot of heart here. David and Fiona’s relationship is dusted off and held up to the light in episode three, while Aaron gets a gentle psychological profiling thanks to the very secular and very nosy Melissa (Morgana Robinson).

The meatiest role though, undoubtedly goes to Rachel, the couple’s daughter. Played by Amy James-Kelly, Rachel’s journey is one of reconciling her faith with her dreams. Sent off by her father on interminable preaching errands (akin to Jehovah’s Witness door-knocking), Rachel is admonished for her excellent grades and discouraged from attending university.

She’s also hiding a secret: her growing friendship with an outsider (Ali Khan), which leads to some really unexpected, touching moments that bring a tear to the eye and nicely punctuate the insanity.

Sure, some of the supporting characters (Lolly Adefope’s teacher, for instance) are more walking punchlines than people, but when the jokes are this good, who cares? I’m a convert of the Church of the Divine Rod, though here’s hoping the apocalypse is delayed, if only so Channel 4 can make more episodes.

Everyone Else Burns will start on Channel 4 on January 23