When someone dies, there’s usually a degree of mourning that occurs, even if the deceased wasn’t the most pleasant or tolerable person. When the dead body in the first episode of the Apple TV+ series Bad Sisters is introduced as “The Prick,” it becomes immediately apparent that there were far more people rooting for his demise than shedding a tear at his death. This bitingly funny and furiously intriguing darkly comic British series gradually unfurls multiple mysteries simultaneously, exploring the specifics of how the dead man met his end and exactly how involved his widow’s four sisters were in helping him along to it.
If there was any question about whether the nickname given by his sisters-in-law to John Paul (Claes Bang, The Square) was appropriate, each episode introduces more ammunition to show just how much he went out of his way to be despicable and downright evil in every situation. From a callous crack to the infertile Eva (Sharon Horgan) about how she might be about to announce that she was pregnant to putting his number into another contact’s in Ursula’s (Eva Birthistle) phone to get her to unwittingly send him incriminating photos, John Paul, also called JP, fully earns his other moniker. There are no limits to what he will do to ruin the lives of those he perceives as a threat, and he targets his wife’s sisters because they can tell what kind of person he is, something Grace (Anne-Marie Duff) is blind to or at the very least hopeless to combat. He should hardly be surprised that there are any number of suspects in his untimely death.
Though this show is based on a decade-old Flemish series, Clan, it’s easy to see the signature imprint of its star and co-creator Horgan, best known for Catastrophe. There is a pitch-black humor in the sisters’ repeated attempts to off JP, and there are also genuinely hilarious moments that come from their interactions and also their conversations with others. When Tom (Brian Gleeson, Frank of Ireland) and Matt (Daryl McCormack, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande), half-brothers charged with paying out the life insurance policy JP had, come to question Eva, she startles Tom by telling him that she thought the only slightly younger Matt was his son. It’s not the mixup he expects since the different colors of the brothers’ skin perplexes most, and her absurd comment represents a clear attempt to rile him up and distract from the fact that there most certainly was foul play in the death of her not-so-dearly-departed brother-in-law.
Bad Sisters manages to be extremely compelling because it invests in all of its characters and gives them rich backstories. Tom’s wife is pregnant and he is determined to prove that the policy shouldn’t be paid out because his late father’s death has left the business in ruins, and he and Matt both had their own complicated relationships with him. Matt and Becka meet after JP’s funeral without any idea of who the other is, and the romance that ensues is riveting since they are both unable to detach their feelings from what Matt is trying to discover and Becka is trying to hide, as well as the stern disapproval from all their siblings. But they’re human, unable to dismiss a weakness even if they’re well aware of its existence, and they’re genuinely attracted to each other.
Horgan is a recognizable talent, and anyone passingly familiar with British and Irish cinema and television will be astounded by the other names alongside her in the ensemble . Sarah Greene (Roadkill, The Dublin Murders) is cutting and superb as the eyepatch-wearing Bibi, whose hatred for JP seems to outweigh her sisters’ from the start. Eva Birthistle (The Last Kingdom, The Bisexual) brings an intense vulnerability to Ursula, a nurse and mother having an affair with another man. Eve Hewson (Behind Her Eyes, The Luminaries) is witty, freewheeling, and intoxicating as Becka, egged on by others telling her she is young and foolish to do whatever she most wants. Anne-Marie Duff (Sex Education, Shameless) makes the long-suffering Grace, JP’s widow, a believable person whose inability to recognize the horrific nature of her situation is made coherent and sympathetic by her portrayal.
The dynamic of the Garvey sisters is captivating to watch, and this show smartly handles its multiple time periods, following the chain of events after JP’s death, including the insurance investigation and the build-up of guilt and secrecy, and flashing back to what made each sister want to kill him and how they conspired to do it. Elements of mystery interact well with absurd twists that make theoretically well-hatched plans go terribly awry. The main title theme, Leonard Cohen’s “Who By Fire,” illustrates the playful and unpredictable nature of this show, underscoring how someone who does enough to merit death will likely find it before their prescribed time. In the seven episodes out of a total ten that were provided to critics, Bad Sisters demonstrates that it has an absolutely invigorating story to tell in the most interesting and enjoyable way possible.
The first two episodes of Bad Sisters premiere on Friday, August 19 on Apple TV+ with one new episode dropping every Friday.