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‘Bad Sisters’ review: Apple TV+’s deliciously bonkers take on sisterhood

Marypaul Jostol, The Conversation

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‘Bad Sisters’ review: Apple TV+’s deliciously bonkers take on sisterhood
While this dramedy entails five sisters going in for the kill — literally speaking — their persistence is an amusing, cathartic reminder of what families do for each other

Minimal spoilers ahead.

A coffin is being carried out of someone’s house six minutes into this show’s pilot episode. Standing a few feet away and staring ahead are a group of women in black, all of whom look a little too apathetic before a funeral. Hours later during the eulogy, one of them fails to suppress a laugh. 

Grieving, they are not. The title of the show is self explanatory.

If you are familiar with Sharon Horgan and her work, you will instantly spot her fingerprints all over Bad Sisters. The Irish writer-slash-producer-slash-actor is known for her irreverent, single-camera comedies like Catastrophe and Shining Vale. This latest project, however, is a departure from that format and an adaptation of the Belgian television series Clan, a one-hour show about the murder of an in-law. Bad Sisters doesn’t stray too far away from the original, but its witty writing and Irish charm allow it to stand firmly on its own feet. 

The Garvey sisters are an eclectic bunch. Horgan stars as the protective oldest sister Eva, who became a mother figure to her siblings after their parents’ deaths some decades back. Sarah Greene is the mysterious, eyepatch-donning Bibi, who radiates a quiet tenacity that’s waiting to be unleashed. Eva Birthistle plays Ursula, a somber nurse having an extramarital affair while dealing with parental stress and a dispassionate marriage. Eve Hewson’s Becka is a young and carefree 20-something with her whole life ahead of her, which could dissipate given the predicament we think she and her sisters are in. 

One look at them will not tell you much. But the flashbacks that unfold throughout the show’s run quickly confirm any lingering suspicions: they indeed embark on a mission to avenge their sister, Grace (Anne-Marie Duff), and for what she has become in the hands of her emotionally abusive husband, John Paul “JP” (Claes Bang), also nicknamed “The Prick” behind his back. 

A “howdunit” murder mystery is challenging to pull off, but Bad Sisters succeeds with its nonlinear storytelling. Alternating between life before and after JP’s death keeps us guessing what happened in between. The show’s strongest points are the “before” sequences, which depict a wild goose chase of catastrophic murder attempts interspersed with JP’s villainous nature. He gives the Garveys a new motive for every single day he makes it out alive, and it is so absurdly cartoonish that you wonder if JP is omnipotent or if the sisters are just sloppy killers. Like a good slow burn, the wait for that big moment is palpable. The inevitability of JP’s demise only sparks more questions: Which attempt was successful? How did they do it? JP was hardly a better person to those outside of his family — were there other people involved, people who saw them? Helped them? What was the final straw?

Impending doom taunts the sisters in the present as they worry about one (or all of them) getting caught. This is exacerbated by Thomas (Brian Gleeson) and Matthew Claflin’s (Daryl McCormack) presence, two insurance agents that suspect foul play and are relentless in their pursuit to prove it. As intriguing as they are, they do bear one of Bad Sisters’ (few) flaws. The Claflins’ backstory is obviously there to contrast the women’s, yet it pales in comparison even when fleshed out. But nonetheless, it is a commendable effort in keeping every character complex and three-dimensional. Maybe it would have worked if the sisters weren’t already so compelling. Ultimately, though, the Claflins truly shine when ruffling the Garveys’ feathers.

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Unfortunately, all screen time spent on the Claflins doesn’t leave much for the others. Bibi takes the fall for it with the majority of her private life still a question mark. While it was fun to see her murderous side evolve, I also expected more depth around Bibi as a wife and mother and how her current predicament affects these roles. We witness how Eva’s workplace friendships eventually become collateral damage. Ursula develops an emotional estrangement from her family as the skeletons in her closet multiply. Becka wrestles with the thrill of getting too close to a Claflin brother. But not much of how Bibi is grappling with her newfound reality is shown, let alone how her wife and son may be reacting to her behavior. Episode five starts to broach that territory, but the storyline never fully develops. 

Bad Sisters is not perfect, but its strengths thoroughly conceal any cracks. The unwavering sibling dynamic will have you rooting for the Garveys and burning through all 10 episodes in one sitting. To be furious and sad and desperate and happy and God knows what else all at the same time makes them the most believable sisters on television right now. 

Its underlying humor is organic, yet never flippant to the abuse and trauma JP inflicted on their family. If anything, commiting to the extreme is how the sisters convey their fury — that they are far beyond their limits and murder is the only way they see out. Doing the most unimaginable things for love is not a foreign concept to any of us, but as Becka mentions early on, it’s more than just that. Survival is also at stake here. Theirs and especially Grace’s. 

So who are we to stop them? Whatever lies ahead, the Garveys will wade through it together just fine. Like they always do. – Rappler.com

Marypaul Jostol is a Rappler intern for MovePH. She is a Communication Arts major at De La Salle University.

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