One of the liveliest limited series of 2022 begins with a Dead Man’s Coffin.
There’s zero doubt this man is dead so it’s not as if he’s got anything to say, and yet there’s something about the frozen expression on his face — not to mention a certain other detail regarding his post-mortem condition and we’re literally not going to mention it — that tells us he just might have had it coming.
We’re not wrong.
From the get-go, this brilliantly executed, seamlessly edited, extremely well-acted and darkly hilarious series from showrunner and star Sharon Horgan (the Brit TV sitcom “Catastrophe,” the HBO comedy series “Divorce”), has an addictively wicked appeal.
Based on the Flemish series “Clan,” with the setting moved to Ireland and featuring a steady diet of gorgeous location photography, “Bad Sisters” is a kind of coastal setting sibling to American counterparts such as “Big Little Lies” and “The Affair” and “Sharp Objects.” With the mostly Irish cast turning in stunningly funny, empathetic and layered work, each episode flies past and brings us to the edge of a cliff and immediately wanting more. (Ah, but you won’t be able to binge in one sitting. The first two episodes of the 10-chapter saga premiere on Aug. 19, with one episode dropping each week until the finale on Oct. 14.)
A series premiering with two episodes Friday on Apple TV+, with a new episode debuting each Friday through Oct. 14.
“Bad Sisters” plays out over two different timelines and features eight main characters and a number of key supporting players, and that sounds like a lot to keep track of — but there’s never a moment when we’re confused about where and when we are, or what has happened and what has yet to happen. This is a very smart show that makes it easy for us to keep up, even as we’re consistently thrown for a loop by some unexpected development.
In the opening wake and funeral (we’ll get to that dead man in a moment), we meet the five Garvey sisters, who have been extremely close forever, especially after the death of their parents in a car accident when they were young. Their ranks:
- Eva (Sharon Horgan) is the matriarch of the clan and is fiercely protective of her sisters, even as she drinks a bit too much and laments that she can’t have children.
- Grace (Anne-Marie Duff) is married and has a 12-year-old daughter and has trouble asserting herself.
- Bibi (Sarah Greene) has a wife and child and a stable domestic life, but she’s brimming with anger and resentment, in large part due to an accident that might not have been an accident and left her with one eye.
- Ursula (Eva Birthistle) is a nurse who is married to a paramedic and has three children, and longs for more carefree days.
- Becka (Eve Hewson) is the youngest sister, a free spirit who is tired of being treated like a baby by her older siblings.
These five fine actors are magnificent together — bantering and bickering and laughing and crying and hugging and confiding in one another in a way only sisters can do, with that special brand of slyly clever Irish humor sprinkling their dialogue. They love to spend time together, whether it’s at holiday gatherings or impromptu dinners or regular journeys to the Forty Foot promontory at Sandycove in County Dublin to swim in the Irish Sea.
What a shame, then, that they’re all being tormented in one form or another by Grace’s husband, John Paul (Claes Bang), a nefarious, controlling, manipulative and abusive cad who takes sadistic delight in abusing Grace and is always getting the upper hand on her sisters, whom he despises. John Paul is the dead man at the outset of the series, and as we see in the flashback sequences set a few months prior to John Paul’s demise, he is a contemptible lout who regularly engages in horrific behavior, to the point where Grace’s four sisters conclude the only solution is to rid the world of John Paul.
A variety of methods to take out John Paul are considered and eventually implemented, and let’s just say Rasputin has nothing on John Paul. Even though we’re keenly aware that John Paul will wind up deader than dead, “Bad Sisters” is filled with tense, hold-your-breath moments.
There’s also the matter of the insurance investigators, half-brothers Thomas and Matt McClaffin (Brian Gleeson and Daryl McCormack, respectively), whose firm is on the brink of bankruptcy. Thomas in particular is desperate to prove John Paul’s death was the result of foul play, while Matt is a bit torn, what with him falling in love with one of the Garvey sisters and all.
With exquisitely timed needle drops from “Lightning’s Girl” by Nancy Sinatra to “Chaise Lounge” by Wet Leg to “Sweet Jane” by Lou Reed to “Kill Kill Kill” by Kim and the Cinders on the soundtrack, and a nifty time-shifting visual technique that looks like frames of films flickering by, “Bad Sisters” is a beautifully produced and directed series. We love spending time with the Garvey sisters and enjoying the exquisite work by Horgan, et. al., and we marvel at Claes Bang’s ability to play one of the most memorably despicable, love-to-hate-him characters in recent memory.
This is one of my favorite series of 2022.