Film & Television

Murder is a Family Affair in ‘Bad Sisters’

Sisters, sisters, never were there such devoted sisters

 That song from 1954’s White Christmas has been running through my head all week. Rosemary Clooney wrote “Sisters” and sang it in the movie with her character’s sister Vera-Ellen (it was later reprised in touches of drag by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye). There’s one line in particular that has become a rather tiresome ear worm for me:

Lord help the mister

Who comes between me and my sister

The Garvey girls would certainly sing along.

In Bad Sisters, the marvelous new black comedy series on Apple TV+, four of the five Garveys band together to extract the fifth from a toxic marriage. The series takes sisterhood and girl power to a sinister new level, and it’s no surprise that all three of its directors are women: Rebecca Gatward, Josephine Bornebusch, and Emmy-winner Dearbhla Walsh. And, the opening credits, set to Leonard Cohen’s “Who by Fire?” are a work of art in and of themselves. As one YouTube viewer points out, “The theme song is on point.”

Bad Sisters is created, written, and produced by prolific multi-hyphenate Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe, Military Wives), who also stars as the group’s de facto matriarch. Horgan recently spoke with Screen Rant and described both the series and its origin this way:

“It’s based on a Belgian series called Clan. And it was brought to me by the head of Apple UK, who just thought it might be up my street. She knew I was looking for something to do post Catastrophe. I had no idea that I was in the market for a thriller, you know, murder mystery.

 “I had never written anything like that before, but I watched some of the original series, and I was onboard pretty quickly because it’s so entertaining. I find it really entertaining, but at the same time, I was really absorbed with the sisters and the family dynamic. And I felt there was a really dangerous, abusive relationship at the heart of it, but I wanted to sort of dramatize. It just felt like something I hadn’t done before but also something that could kind of challenge me, I suppose.”

It would be difficult not to be absorbed by the sisters. The chemistry between them — both in the sharp scriptwriting and the nuanced acting — rings true, whether they are bickering together, drinking together, or plotting together.

There’s Eva (Horgan), the eldest, who raised the youngest sisters after their parents died in an accident. She’s a single professional, who superintends many of the Garveys’ traditions, like holiday get-togethers and a Christmas morning swim in the icy waters off Ireland’s eastern coast. She’s grounded, likeable, but protective of her siblings — very protective.

Bibi (Penny Dreadful’s Sarah Greene) is a competitive crossbow champion who had to leave the sport after losing an eye. The black patch, combined with her sleek but severe hair and perpetual sneer make her a likely suspect — should anything happen.

Ursula (Brooklyn’s Eva Birthistle) is a nurse, a mother, a wife, and as we soon learn, an unfaithful one. Having embarked on an illicit affair with her photography teacher, which makes her feel, “Y’know, like I used to when I’m with him,” she will do anything to keep her secrets … well … secret.

Becka (The Knick’s Eve Hewson) is the baby of the family, and a little tired of being treated like it. A free spirit and sexual adventurer, she appears to live a carefree life until we learn that her ambitions for opening a massage therapy business have been thwarted by an extended family member and revenge might be in order.

And, finally, there’s Grace (Suffragette’s Anne-Marie Duff), who is a homemaker and mother of an adolescent daughter. The rest of the Garvey sisters watch, in growing horror, as Grace disappears before their eyes, perpetually diminished by her arrogant, misogynist, hateful, bullying, gaslighting brute of a husband, John Paul Williams (The Affair’s Claes Bang).

A plethora of other adjectives might be applied to “JP.” But, the sisters simply call him, “The Prick.”

The 10 episodes of Bad Sisters follow a clever pattern that keeps viewers on their toes (or at least, the edge of their seats). It isn’t really a spoiler to tell you that JP is dead; the very first scene of the very first episode depicts Grace making sandwiches and mourning over his dead body, in an open casket and pajamaed for maximum comfort in the afterlife. He has died in “an accident,” yet to be explained. The two fumbling Claffin brothers (Phantom Thread’s Brian Gleeson and Good Luck to You, Leo Grande’s Daryl McCormack) don’t have the money to pay out JP’s life insurance policy, so they hope to prove that the “accident” was no accident.

And, I assume you can guess who they’ve targeted as the prime suspects.

Each installment toggles between the past, in which JP makes life utterly miserable for his wife, his daughter, and all his sisters-in-law, and the present, in which the Claffins get ever closer to uncovering what and, more importantly, who is behind the man’s death. There are many reasons to hate JP and seemingly many ways to kill him, most of which fail. “You’d have an easier time offing the bloody Road Runner,” Eva complains after one or another murderous plot goes horribly but humorously awry.

Three episodes in, the nature of the eventually successful “accident” hasn’t been revealed, although the possible motives become stronger and stronger. One hopes that Grace and daughter Blanaid will get over the death of JP in time.

But, the world — not to mention the Garvey sisters — is better off without  him.

 Bad Sisters is available to stream on Apple TV+ with new episodes uploaded on Fridays.


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