Bad Sisters review: Apple TV+’s smart comic thriller series

Apple TV+’s dark comedy thriller Bad Sisters doesn’t shy away from showing all the ways that a toxic person can not only ruin other people’s lives, but do so without ever even breaking the law. The new series, which comes from co-creators Sharon Horgan, Dave Finkel, and Brett Baer, follows one truly despicable man (played with sneering confidence by Claes Bang) as he continuously poisons the lives of those around him and, in doing so, forces his four sisters-in-law to try to put an end to him.

Unfortunately for the show’s titular sisters, they can only think of one way to get rid of their abusive brother-in-law, and it is decidedly not within the confines of the law. For that reason, Bad Sisters will likely end up receiving comparisons to HBO’s Big Little Lies, which similarly focuses on a group of women who come together to cover up a man’s murder.

However, Bad Sisters sparkles with a sense of black humor and Irish wit that will not only be familiar to fans of Horgan’s work but which also help separate it from shows with similar plots. In fact, by rooting itself so firmly in the perspectives of its central Irish women, Bad Sisters is able to blend its unshakeable empathy and dark humor in a manner that makes it feel wholly unique.

Sharon Horgan, Eve Hewson, Eva Birthistle, and Sarah Greene stand near a tree in Apple TV+'s Bad Sisters.
Apple TV+, 2022

Inspired by the Flemish series Clan, Bad Sisters focuses on the Garvey sisters, Eva (Horgan), Grace (Anne-Marie Duff), Ursula (Eva Birthistle), Bibi (Sarah Greene), and Becka (Eve Hewson), who have been inextricably close to each other ever since the deaths of their parents. When the series begins, the five sisters have all assembled to attend the funeral of Grace’s husband, John Paul Williams (Bang). However, a small smirk from Horgan’s Eva in one early scene makes it clear that she and Grace’s other sisters are not losing any sleep over the death of their brother-in-law.

Instead, it becomes increasingly apparent that Eva, Ursula, Bibi, and Becka were not only rooting for John Paul’s death but were actively trying to murder him prior to his demise. Once that fact has been established, Bad Sisters begins to explore both the months leading up to John Paul’s death and those that come after it. In the latter, the Garveys are forced to try to cover up the truth about John Paul’s death from Thomas (Brian Gleeson) and Matthew Claffin (Good Luck to You, Leo Grande‘s Daryl McCormack), a pair of inquisitive insurance salesmen who have their own shady reasons for not wanting to hand out John Paul’s life insurance policy.

It’s the months leading up to John Paul’s death that Bad Sisters spends the most time exploring though, and it’s easy to see why. Not only do John Paul’s scenes in the show make it explicitly clear just how villainous he was, but Bad Sisters is also able to mine plenty of drama and tension out of the Garvey sisters’ numerous attempts to kill him. By placing such a heavy spotlight on the ways in which John Paul both harassed and abused his sisters-in-law, Bad Sisters also ensures that its viewers will inevitably become emotionally invested in Eva, Bibi, Ursula, Grace, and Becka’s lives.

Claes Bang leans in toward Sharon Horgan in Apple TV+'s Bad Sisters.
Apple TV+, 2022

That said, in order to build support for the Garveys, Bad Sisters does have to invest a lot of time in both Claes Bang’s John Paul and Brian Gleeson’s Thomas Claffin, who might just be two of the most unlikable fictional men in recent TV history. In the case of Gleeson’s Thomas, while Bad Sisters does its best to humanize him as much as possible, his total disregard for the Garvey sisters’ lives makes it impossible to root for him whenever he’s onscreen.

But not even Gleeson’s Thomas is able to match the pure villainy of Bang’s John Paul Williams. Those familiar with Bang’s previous work — namely, his performances in films and TV shows like The Northman, The Square, and 2020’s Dracula limited series — probably won’t be surprised to hear that his John Paul ranks firmly as one of the best screen villains of the year so far. The actor’s indulgently smarmy, nonchalantly abusive performance in Bad Sisters is simply astonishing to behold. His performance is so effective, in fact, that it prevents the series’ pitch-black comic tone from ever feeling too cruel.

Bang, like everyone in Bad Sisters, feels perfectly cast in his role. Opposite him, Horgan continues to prove herself as one of Hollywood’s most talented multi-hyphenates, turning in a performance as Eva that’s both strong and vulnerable in equal measure. Meanwhile, even though Sarah Green’s Bibi initially seems to be the most stoic of Bad Sisters’ protagonists, the series’ later episodes break down her walls in ways that are alternatively touching and heartbreaking, and Greene’s performance only becomes more layered the further that the show gets into its first season.

Daryl McCormack and Brian Gleeson sit on a couch together in Apple TV+'s Bad Sisters.
Apple TV+, 2022

Despite running nearly 10 hours long as well, Bad Sisters manages to pack in enough twists, turns, and effective emotional beats to justify its first season’s considerable length. Consequently, while it never moves at a particularly fast pace, the series’ momentum never stalls for too long, and Horgan and co. continuously finds new ways to spotlight the show’s cast members. Eve Hewson and Anne-Marie Duff, in particular, are given the chance to take on more active roles in Bad Sisters‘ final episodes, and they both ultimately turn in performances that are as good as any that the series has to offer.

What’s most impressive about Bad Sisters, however, is the way it effortlessly bounces back and forth between moments of devastating heartbreak, comedy, romance, and tenderness. Like so many of Horgan’s previous TV efforts, the Apple TV+ original maintains a masterful tonal control from its first moment to its last. Even in its pitch-perfect opening scene, Bad Sisters succeeds at transitioning from a moment of total solemnity to a beat of tongue-in-cheek comedy that is best left unspoiled but might very well be one of the best visual jokes of the year.

Bad Sisters — Official Trailer | Apple TV+

Therefore, even though Bad Sisters doesn’t quite nail all of its narrative beats (its characterization of Bang’s John Paul Williams does sometimes veer too far into cartoonish villainy), it still emerges over the course of its first season as one of 2022’s most well-rounded new shows.

The first two episodes of Bad Sisters premiere Friday, August 19 on Apple TV+. Digital Trends was given access to all of the show’s 10 episodes.

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