On the surface, Bad Sisters appears to be a sweary, boozy sitcom about sisters doing rebellious things.
It’s also a disturbing drama about abuse and murder, set in the moving postcard that is Dublin.
This unique hybrid of tones is the result Apple TV Plus hiring prolific sitcom creator and actor Sharon Horgan (Pulling, Catastrophe). Her effervescent characters are one part mayhem, two parts charm, and three parts moral gray area.
The show’s intriguing format places us in the wake of a crime, then jumps back in time to turn the puzzle pieces. It is both a whodunit and a Howdunit.
A man named John Paul Williams (Claes Bang) is the victim of the crime. The show provides a pretty strong justification for his demise. Clearly, John Paul is misogynistic, racist, and sexist, traits he barely hides behind a nice husbandly veil.
John Paul is married to Grace Garvey (Anne-Marie Duff), the second eldest of the five Garvey sisters: Eva (Sharon Horgan) is the eldest; Ursula (Eva Birthistle) is the middle child; Bibi (Sarah Greene) is the second youngest; and Becka (Eve Hewson), known as Baby Becka, is the youngest. Eva and Becka are about 20 years apart, and their mother-daughter dynamic epitomizes the Garvey tribe: at one point, Eva jokes that she might kill Becka. At another, she drops everything to run alongside Becka.
Orphaned, the sisters form a support network that includes the service of killing evil husbands. The sisters notice how John Paul turned his wife Grace into a gentle mouse. At one end of the monster spectrum, he locks her in their house, pretending to protect her. On the other, he apparently kills their daughter’s cat — and guess who takes the blame?
Everything escalates as John Paul pulls each of the Garvey sisters into his life-destroying vortex. In order to survive — and to free Grace from this sophisticated prison — Garvey devises various creative ways to kill John Paul without getting caught. There are many failed attempts. The grand means of incompetent killers are top notch entertainment.
The question is: which of the brothers successfully kills John Paul? Or are they all together?
The current timeline produces more accidents as Garvey evades the investigation of equally blundering life insurance agents. The agents are desperate to prove the crime and avoid sinking their struggling business with a huge payout. Investigators are also brothers — brothers — so they too know the feeling of suddenly becoming blind to the law, if it means supporting their loved ones.
When Bad Sisters premiered Apple TV Plus in August, episodes dropped weekly. Now you can take it down in one go. Bad Sisters mercilessly forces you to do this. Each episode ends with a bombshell or cliffhanger, then cuts into the end credits to songs titled Hot Knife or Kill Kill Kill.
Not to mention that PJ Harvey’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Who by Fire plays over the opening credits. Immerse yourself in the haunting anthem, but keep an eye out for strategically placed objects on the screen, all related to how the crime unfolds.
Bad Sisters was originally planned as a 10-episode limited series, an adaptation of the Belgian sitcom Clan. It ends with a neat bow, but the Garvey sisters’ impact lingers beyond. No matter how dark their situation becomes, the Garveys can be tracked endlessly. From dealing with flash trauma to laughing at the absurdity of their situation, the effect is intoxicating, sitting right at the dining room table, close to the warmth.
On Tuesday, Apple TV Plus renewed Bad Sisters for a second season. The first one provided one of the most satisfying endings imaginable, so it would be a feat to replicate that for Season 2. Writer Horgan deserves full credit, though. It would be a coup even if season 2 was just the Garvey sisters watching TV, Gogglebox style.
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