Abuse has been a hot topic in the past two years, especially as the pandemic forced households globally into lockdown. But is the world ready to see cases of domestic and verbal abuse on television and movie screens? Certain movies touch on the topic, such as A Star is Born, but it becomes a slippery slope when the abuser is justified through the camera’s lens. Apple TV+’s newest release, Bad Sisters, combats and reclaims the victim’s experiences through the story of five sisters taking revenge against one sister’s husband. Bad Sisters lies in the vein of predecessors like Big Little Lies, which connects the lives of five women through one murder. Big Little Lies, too, deals with cases of abuse on the screen.
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Bad Sisters was created by actress, producer, and writer Sharon Horgan, who is best known for appearing in Pulling and Catastrophe for British television. Horgan also made Divorce, which starred Sarah Jessica Parker on HBO. Originally titled Emerald, Bad Sisters was slated for Horgan to write, star, and executive produce for Apple TV+. The show was based on a Flemish series called Clan, which the creator, Malin-Sarah Gozin, executive produced this series. The show began filming in Ireland in 2021, and the entire cast was released in early 2022, only months before the show’s premiere on the streaming platform.
The lead roles are split in five ways, as the five sisters are the stars of this show. The actresses portraying the sisters are Sharon Horgan, Anna-Marie Duff (Sex Education, On Chesil Beach), Eva Birthistle (Brooklyn, The Last Kingdom), Sarah Greene, and Eve Hewson (The Knick, Behind Her Eyes). Claes Bang (Dracula, The Square) is paired opposite them as the show’s primary antagonist, one of the sister’s husbands. The supporting cast is rounded out by Brian Gleeson, Daryl McCormack, and Assad Bouab. With this stacked cast of European talent,it comes as no surprise that the acting throughout the show is top-notch.
Sisters Unite in the Face of Abuse
Bad Girls begins with a death, but it is not so obvious what this story is about at the beginning except there are hints of traditional flair. The cracks are quickly filled in: the deceased’s name was John-Paul Williams and he was well-respected in his community. A businessman and devoted husband, the circumstances of his death are a little too suspicious to fly under the radar of two life insurance agents. There are some prime suspects immediately: Williams’ numerous sister-in-laws. The opening scenes cut to the sisters in the aftermath of his death while his funeral is about to start. Many people are attending to show their respect to Williams, but it comes across that few genuinely cared about who he was as a person. None of the sisters shed a genuine tear for him at his funeral, one even scoffing when JP was said to be a good person.
Why that is the case quickly becomes obvious as the show hurtles back and forth between the past and present. In the present moment, the two insurance agents, named Tom and Matt, are trying to uncover the mystery behind Williams’ death. Meanwhile, in the past, the sisters are moaning about how horrible of a person John-Paul Williams is. Although he looks like a shining beacon to the overarching community, in private he is a raging, abusive man. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the increase in domestic abuse cases demonstrated repeatedly something that many already knew: abuse becomes increasingly dangerous psychologically and physically as the situation continues to escalate. Bad Sisters is a textbook example of what happens when someone is constantly exposed to this kind of situation, worn down to the point where they, too, become capable of something inhumane.
Claes Bang, who previously gave an incredible performance in 2017’s award-winning film The Square, stands out in his performance as Williams. He truly comes across as vile as he insults his wife and constantly lashes out at everyone within the general vicinity. However, his wife, Grace, can only handle so much. She has four sisters to back her up in her journey: Eva, Ursula, Bibi, and Becka. The sisters are orphans, as their parents passed away before the events of the series. They only have each other in life, which is what unifies them when one of the sisters feels threatened. First, she is in denial, despite the rest of the sisters’ judgment, but as the situation continues to spiral, there seems to be only one way out of it.
The show is set between London and Dublin, riffing off the black comedy themes that it establishes in the first episode. With a soundtrack that is distinctly folk American songs, the scene is set to bring this show into a premise with a unique Irish twang to it. There is a lot of dry humor scattered throughout, a trademark for the region that the show is set in. Perhaps this is one of the show’s most defining characteristics as it gets lost in the middle of the whodunnit aspects and focuses more on how John-Paul died. The sisters would not have been the only people to want him dead, but they were the closest to him through his wife. Even the viewer, too, will want him dead after seeing what he put the people around him through in vile, cruel, and misogynistic ways.
An Excellent Blend of Genres
From the beginning, it is established that Bad Sisters has a split timeline. As the insurance agents try to wade through the facts and fiction behind John-Paul’s death, the show delves into territory that really is not necessary to advance the plot. It may not be such a mystery as to what actually happened here, but instead, the real story lies with the sisters and their relationship. By shifting the camera away from them, these relationships and storylines become murkier. When the scenes cut back to these agents from, for example, a funeral scene, it seems like a way to stretch the plot further to fit within ten episodes. John-Paul Williams is the tether keeping this story together, uniting the viewers and the sisters against a villain that will truly make your skin crawl.
Because of this, Bad Sisters might be Sharon Horgan’s best creation so far. It is difficult to bring together five lead characters and make each character unique, but Bad Sisters succeeds in doing so. Each of the Garvey sisters has a distinct personality and background to boot, distinguishing them and their places in the story quite clearly. Although the insurance agents might not be a necessary part of the story as supporting roles, they, too, are fleshed out and do not fall into the background as static characters. Every single person plays a role in the story, which is impressive in terms of not only the script and its writing, but also the acting.
With quick pacing, it is hard to notice any shortcomings through the limited series as it races through scenes and timelines, slowly culminating into a show that honestly may be one of Apple TV+’s best releases so far. It has everything someone could want from a show like this: murder, comedy, jokes that should not be able to land at certain moments, and a slightly absurdist take on life and spirituality. Viewers might not be able to relate to the exact situation everyone is going through on the screen, but they will easily be able to sympathize after seeing it.
There is not much to think about when it comes to Bad Sisters. Its ending may become increasingly obvious as more of the story comes to light, but this is a show very much about the journey of getting there. At its core is the toxic abuse that Grace had to endure, and the viewers must watch, rather uncomfortably, as she slowly retreats into herself and eventually lashes out in a way that is just as destructive as her husband once was. While it is often set in this idyllic Irish seaside town with beautiful, sweeping shots of the ocean and greenery, something unsettling lurks within these depths. It is not a mystery about what that is, but Bad Sisters still is pretty enjoyable in its runtime. Its cast does an excellent job of embodying their characters, with Bang’s JP being a clear standout. Every moment we spend with him is uncomfortable, making getting through the show even more victorious while moving through the episodes.
Bad Sisters is available to stream exclusively on Apple TV+. The first two episodes were released on August 19, 2022, and the remaining episodes will be released weekly.
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