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Bad Sisters review: Apple’s brilliant new black comedy is an endlessly bingeable treat, and one of the year’s best shows

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Bad Sisters review: Balancing serious themes with black humour, the wildly entertaining new show continues Apple's phenomenal year.

A promotional still for Bad Sisters. (Photo: Apple TV+)

On the heels of Netflix’s Darlings comes Bad Sisters, a phenomenal new Apple TV+ show that serves as a case study on how to navigate basically the same themes, but with a degree of refinement that was mostly missing from that Alia Bhatt film. Set in Ireland — the land of Martin McDonagh, the greatest living writer of dark comedies — Bad Sisters opens with a scene that wordlessly teases the delightfully twisted tale to follow. A grieving widow hurries to find an item with which to cover the post-mortem erection of her dead husband, as he lays in his coffin moments before guests start arriving for his funeral.

We’re told in the show’s opening episode — titled, appropriately, The Prick — that the deceased was probably the most hated man in town, and that several people in his orbit, including his widow Grace’s four sisters, wanted him dead. Across 10 episodes, Bad Sisters goes back and forth in time as it reveals just how monstrous John Paul Williams was, and how, an an effort to save Grace, any of her four sisters could’ve killed him. God knows each of them had enough reason to.

Despite its jarring tonal inconsistencies, Darlings was above reproach on an ethical level. It avoided, for instance, the narrative traps that lesser feminist revenge films routinely succumb to. But most admirably, it didn’t allow the protagonist — a young woman by the name of Badru — to transform into a monster like her abusive husband. A character’s morality is normally unimportant, but in fables such as Darlings — and, indeed, Bad Sisters — it is vital.

Part of the show’s fun is in watching the Garvey sisters — played by co-creator Sharon Horgan, Eva Birthistle, Sarah Greene and Eve Hewson — balance the audience’s goodwill on their fingertips as they walk a morally dubious tightrope under intense pressure.

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Having watched John Paul (played so devilishly well by Claes Bang that you’ll want him dead even before he has committed the gravest of his crimes) emotionally abuse Grace for years, her sisters contemplate killing him with increasing seriousness. But at no point does the show let any of the Garvey sisters become irredeemable. None of them enjoys the revenge; in fact, they’re greatly pained by it — like true Irish Catholics, they’re struck by guilt before they can be struck by our judgement. And this is crucial. “It’s barbaric, and we’re not murderers,” one of them tells the other in an early episode, indicating that this is not a decision that they’ve taken lightly. Later, the three oldest sisters make sure to keep the youngest — Becka — as far away from the mess as they can. Nobody manipulates her, nobody threatens her. Whatever she does is of her own volition.

Matters are further complicated by the arrival of two sibling insurance agents, who have their own reasons to suspect the Garvey sisters. Having inherited a crumbling agency from their dead father, the brothers have personal reasons to prove that foul play was involved in John Paul’s death. Paying out the claim would essentially be the final nail in their business’ coffin. It’s a neat trick to keep the police from poking their noses in the case. The show is smart enough to realise that involving the cops in stories like this can cause more trouble for the writers than the characters, because the next challenge is to keep them from discovering the truth. And more often than not, screenwriters prefer turning the police into bumbling fools as an easy explanation for why they aren’t able to close the case.

But true to form, Bad Sisters ensures that every major decision made by its characters is informed by the human relationships that they share with others, and not for the convenience of the plot. Often, these decisions could mean the difference between life and death. And although the show can also be remarkably funny when it wants to, you’d be hard-pressed to find a scene that can be classified as comedy — there’s always an underlying tension; a congealed rage beneath the silky storytelling.

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Bad Sisters is the second murder mystery that Apple has released in 2022, after the fun (but far more lighthearted) The Afterparty. That show got the ball rolling on what has clearly been one of the best years for a streamer since the digital revolution began a decade ago. Apple followed it up with even better titles such as Pachinko, Black Bird, (the year’s best show) Severance and (the year’s best film) Cha Cha Real Smooth. Enjoy it while it lasts, because even though you’ll never be able to predict the twists and turns in Bad Sisters, we all know by now how the streaming story ends.

Bad Sisters
Creator – Sharon Horgan
Cast – Sharon Horgan, Anne-Marie Duff, Eva Birthistle, Sarah Greene, Eve Hewson, Claes Bang, Brian Gleeson, Daryl McCormack, Assaad Bouab, Michael Smiley
Rating – 4.5/5

First published on: 19-08-2022 at 08:17:02 am
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