Bad Sisters: A darkly entertaining thriller
James R | On 28, Aug 2022
Episodes 1 and 2 of Bad Sisters premiered on 19th August, with episodes then arriving weekly on Fridays.
“I’m just glad the suffering’s over,” says Eva (Sharon Horgan), at a funeral. “Was he ill?” asks a guest paying their respects. “No,” comes the cheerfully blunt reply. That sets the tone for Bad Sisters, Apple TV+’s darkly entertaining new drama, which follows the unfortunate death of John Paul Williams (Claes Bang) – and toys with the suggestion that, just maybe, it might not have been that unfortunate after all.
While people might say “I could kill them” in a moment of frustration, nobody actually means it – but the starting point of this 10-part comic thriller is the idea that it was meant by someone after all. The deceased’s widow, Grace (Anne-Marie Duff), is the only one openly mourning his passing. Her sisters – Eva (Horgan), Bibi (Sarah Greene), Becka (Eve Hewson) and Ursula (Eva Birthistle) – are all surprisingly untroubled by grief and, if anything, seem quite pleased about Grace’s loss.
Why becomes very clear very quickly, as the series jumps back and forth from the immediate aftermath of his funeral to the months leading up to it: John Paul, to put it simply, was not a nice man. The more time we spend with him and Grace, what emerges is a portrait of emotional abuse, coercion, bullying, control and gaslighting, and Anne-Marie Duff delivers a heartbreaking performance as someone slowly losing her strength and sense and self. Claes Bang, meanwhile, doesn’t hold back as the villainous John Paul, undermining Grace, insulting everyone else in the family and spilling their private secrets in an intentional attempt to hurt them and disrupt their lives.
The Dublin-set series is based on the Belgian series The Out-Laws (or Clan), created by Malin-Sarah Gozin, and if anything this series is even darker, as Claes Bang’s John Paul is overtly crueller and calculating at every opportunity. What hasn’t changed, though, is the attention to detail given to every other character, with each member of the Garvey family carefully fleshed out. There’s the forthright youngest, Becka, who wants to start a masseuse business, the uncompromising Bibi, who doesn’t flinch from doing dark deeds, and nurse Ursula, who is sensible in everything except her marital affairs. Holding them together is Eva, the oldest of the group.
The cast are uniformly excellent, with Horgan a particular delight as the frustrated and compassionate mother figure, who can’t resist the impulse to protect Grace. Together, even as they joke about committing “the perfect murder”, they keep the emphasis on the second word of the title, with a sense of solidarity and sisterhood that rings with heartfelt sincerity. That close family bond is nicely contrasted with the drive of half-brothers Tom (Brian Gleeson) and Matt (Daryl McCormack) to save their business from bankruptcy – the only catch? Their firm is a life insurance company, and needs to prove that foul play happened to their client to avoid paying out on John Paul’s policy.
Neither party have wholly honourable intentions, but Bad Sister succeeds by daring us to sympathise with each and every person we meet – with the exception of John Paul. By nudging our feelings and sympathies this way and that, the show becomes a morally complex and challenging watch, while balancing the howdunnit – or whodunnit? – mystery with a relentlessly dark sense of humour and amusing one-liners. Throughout the opening episodes and their escalating set pieces, the series playfully leaves you hoping for a happy ending in the face of tragedy, and wondering whether, after all, the perfect murder did prove to be impossible. The result is a remake that stays true to the serious stakes of the original, while translating its central theme of sorority into something that feels at home in its new Irish setting, framed with a serene beauty and a twinkling wit.