There have been a small spate of murder comedies on TV lately, and it’s a delightful micro genre. Mixing a mystery and thriller with humor—and doing it well—is no small feat. But Sharon Horgan’s Bad Sisters (based on the 2012 Flemish series Clan) manages it with aplomb. And unlike Hulu’s cozy murder show, Only Murders in the Building, Bad Sisters doesn’t have us hunting for the killer so much as hoping whoever it was gets away with it.
This new hourlong Apple TV+ series is set in Dublin, where four charismatic and tightly-knit sisters lament that their fifth sister, Grace (Anne-Marie Duff), has had the life sucked out of her by her miserable husband, John Paul (Claes Bang). Grace is too traumatized to see how John Paul’s manipulations have damaged her, turning her from a loving and vivacious woman to a scared, anxious mess. And it’s affected their daughter as well as her relationship with her sisters.
But each of the Garvey sisters have a bone to pick with John Paul personally, too. Eva (Sharon Horgan), the stand-in matriarch of the family, works with him and puts up with his heinous barbs about her being single and unable to have children. Ursula (Eva Birthistle) has a run-in with him after he trails her and discovers she’s been taking time from her husband and three children to carry on an affair—a fact he uses to both humiliate and blackmail her. Bibi (Sarah Green) is permanently maimed because of an accident he caused, and Becka (Eve Hewson)—often John Paul’s lone defender—has the rug pulled out from her when he goes back on a financial promise just to make her look like a fool.
Bad Sisters opens with John Paul’s funeral, and we are quickly made to assume the sisters (minus Grace) are responsible. But the truth is not quite so cut and dry; the series flips back and forth between the present and six months prior, when the plan was first hatched, using an easy-to-follow film transition to take us between those moments. We don’t know how John Paul died, at least at first, because what becomes clear very early on is that the sisters made more than one attempt on his life, and none of them (as of the first four episodes screened) go according to plan. What begins as an idea that one sister has slowly grows into a group effort, as the women individually come to the end of their ropes with their twisted brother-in-law.
It will be of little surprise from a Horgan project that the series’ women are written incredibly well and portrayed with humor and heart—the excellent cast shines in individual scenes and when they are together. But Claes Bang is also phenomenal as a man you not only want to see murdered, you’d like to do it with your own bare hands. Smug, petulant, creepy, and emotionally abusive, all under the guise of prudishness and “care,” few men on TV will provoke such hatred (although I can think of one). But still, truly, do we want to see him die?
The show’s premiere episode answers that question well and clearly after the first botched attempt: in the wake of the presumed horror of the act, the only thing worse is finding out it didn’t work. And that’s where Bad Sisters goes from being a decent whodunnit to a can’t-stop-watching caper where the humor is augmented with each subsequent episode.
The only iffy bit of the series is an integral, but far less interesting plot concerning two insurance agent brothers who don’t want to pay out John Paul’s policy, and who are looking for any possible evidence of foul play. The idea itself doesn’t strain credulity, but the immediate, nearly unhinged doggedness of older brother Thomas (Brian Gleeson) is more irritating than funny or concerning. Every time the narrative shifts to the brothers, it feels as if it has come to a grinding halt. Still, a connection that younger brother Matthew (Daryl McCormack) has with Becka is ripe for juicy drama once it gets going.
Since coming to the attention of American audiences in the excellent series Catastrophe, Sharon Horgan has been extremely busy (and to be fair, she was pretty busy before). She’s written, produced, and/or acted in a number of recognizable comedies across the dial, including HBO’s Divorce and Starz’s Shining Vale. But her best work remains in smaller, often underrated (and non-American) series like Frayed, This Way Up, and now Bad Sisters.
And as noted before, Horgan is again exceptional here, trading witticisms with the sisters (particularly eye-patch-wearing Bibi, proving how underused Greene was in the slog that was Dublin Murders, and only glimpses of which we got to see in Normal People). As exaggerated as the circumstances of Bad Sisters might be, the Garvey sisters ground it with a natural rapport and lived-in chemistry. Both familial love and frustration are on charming display, and—minus the murder—it’s really something of an aspirational dynamic. Or it will be, once John Paul is out of the way.
Clan only ran for one season; it’s unclear whether Bad Sisters is meant to go beyond this 10-episode run or not. It’s part of a larger first-look deal Horgan has with Apple TV+, which will hopefully continue to see her developing these more intimate stories, with their easygoing humor punctuated by hard truths. But while I would happily watching the Garveys do anything together, trying to extend the story with perhaps another murder, or worse, a trial a la Broadchurch or Big Little Lies would be an unfortunate misstep. For now, it’s enough to appreciate the winning strangeness of how a show about murder can fill us with such unbridled glee.
The first two episodes of Bad Sisters premiere Friday, August 19th on Apple TV+, with subsequent episodes airing weekly.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.