TV writer Ilina Jha reviews the Channel 4 show noting that, while it contains all the best elements of a typical TV sitcom, it would be better enjoyed when viewed as a comedy-drama
Content warnings: references to sexism and homophobia
Everyone Else Burns is a Channel 4 sitcom following the lives of the Lewis family, who are members of a strict Christian (but unspecified) order. The sitcom charts the highs and lows of the family members, including the attempts of David (Simon Bird) to become an elder, Fiona’s (Kate O’Flynn) struggles with her marriage and expectations, Rachel’s (Amy James-Kelly) attempts to go to university, and Aaron’s (Harry Connor) excellent but disturbing drawings of his father suffering in hell.
There is much to enjoy about this series. There are plenty of good jokes throughout, and the comedy of the series is greatly aided by Morgana Robinson as the Lewises’ neighbour, Melissa; and Lolly Adefope as Rachel’s kind but inept schoolteacher, Miss Simmons. James-Kelly produces an impressive performance of a teenage girl struggling with the clash between her religion and her dreams. Her bored, resigned attempts at preaching as dictated by her family are very funny – Rachel has an air of ‘Yes, I wouldn’t want to listen to me either’ when she is rebuffed by her neighbours. Rachel’s tentative but blossoming relationship with ex-Order member, Joshua (Ali Khan), is in turn funny, heartwarming, and heartbreaking.
Additionally, O’Flynn plays Fiona brilliantly, capturing the sharpness of the character, as well as her struggles with obeying Order rules. Her friendship with Melissa offers her a new perspective and allows a slightly emerging rebelliousness, but one that is constantly at war with her desire not to ‘stray from the path’. There are some wonderful performances among members of the supporting cast – for example, Kadiff Kirwan is excellent as Andrew, David’s rival for the position of Elder. The ruthless Elder Samson (Arsher Ali) is contrasted wonderfully with the more laid-back Elder Abijah (Al Roberts), who I first mistook for Professor Brian Cox – I wonder if the resemblance was a deliberate choice?
There are a couple of times when the narrative seems stretched beyond what would be realistic, but mostly the show is a believable depiction of family life. The narrative is well-paced and edited. However, I feel the opening titles could have been a little bit more interesting – something more than just a background of pink clouds would have been better, and the opening music should have been a little more jolly for a show that is meant to be a sitcom.
Unfortunately, I don’t feel that Everything Else Burns really is a sitcom. Yes, the show is funny, but it is also very serious and even disturbing at times. The strong sexism that runs throughout The Order gives much cause for concern – Simon is unhappy with Fiona running a side business until he gives his ‘permission’, and Rachel is expected to raise a family rather than go to university. The show seems to treat this entrenched sexism as a humorous, silly quirk of The Order, rather than challenging the harmful limitations it imposes on Rachel and Fiona. Other problematic elements of the Order, such as homophobia, are touched on but not fully developed or explored.
So overall, while I enjoyed Everyone Else Burns, I think perhaps it is best treated as a comedy-drama rather than a sitcom, and I feel that the more damaging implications of the Order should have been treated with more seriousness by the show.
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