An excellent remake of an acidic Belgian black comedy.
How spectacular it feels when you watch a remake of one of your favorite Belgian TV shows which is, if not superior, at least of equal merit to the original. Apple TV+ original series Bad Sisters is based on Malin-Sarah Gozin's 2012 Flemish show The Out-Laws (original title: Clan) that narrated the dark, yet utterly hilarious, story of 5 sisters who make a pact to kill their vile, appalling brother-in-low each for her own reasons but, above all, to save their beloved sister who made a grave error of judgement when she decided to marry a full-blown sadist. In the American remake, Sharon Horgan, the co-developer of the series along with Brett Baer and Dave Finkel, is the woman who holds the role of the main protagonist, Eva, while she also co-signs the screenplay of a lucrative production which won the prestigious Peabody Award for 2022 in the category of Entertainment "for its bracingly funny, mercifully nuanced exploration of familial dynamics and the far-reaching effects of abuse". Apart from the predominant motif of domestic abuse -more mental than physical- the show explores the themes of familial loyalty, the joys and burden of sisterhood and how far one is willing to go in order to protect his loved ones. Furthermore, the story incorporates elements from distinct (sub)genres that boost the intrigue and enhance the mystery aspect.
The first episode begins with a scene that heralds what's about to come next: it is the funeral of the despicable John Paul (Claes Bang) aka "The Prick" and his widow Grace (A. M. Duff) is standing over the open coffin when she realizes that her late husband is having a post-mortem erection. One of the sister comments that this is something that happens to people who suffer a violent death. Then, we are slowly introduced to the 5 Garvey sisters who are as close as siblings can be as their parents are long dead, leaving them alone to care for one another. Eva (S. Horgan) is eldest and the one who assumed the role of the "mother" for the other four; Ursula (E. Birthistle) is a married woman with three kids who has a secret intimate relationship on the side; Bibi (S. Greene) is the most fierce and determined of the sisters and the one who first comes up with a plan to get rid of her brother-in-law; Becka (E. Hewson) is the youngest and, as a consequence, the most reckless one. Grace is the last one and we are witnessing first-hand of her everyday torment, living with a man who exercise his power over her every chance he gets, humiliating, gaslighting, and diminishing her personality for the sake of dominance and control. Grace and John Paul have a 12-year-old daughter, Blanaid (S. Quinn) who is also tormented by her father in a similar manner.
The sisters who meet frequently due to their strong bond, soon realize that the only solution to Grace's predicament is killing John Paul. In the beginning it's only Eva and Bibi who plot and scheme but gradually all the sisters agree to the plan(s) as they are themselves harassed by their brother-in-law: he makes insensitive comments to Eva regarding her infertility issues, blackmails Ursula that he is going to reveal the truth about her extramarital relationship to her husband and, generally, makes an impression with his unprecedented cruelty and nastiness: "He has at his disposal some of the sharpest tools in the patriarchy: shame, blame, self-doubt, and violence, which he stabs with frightening dexterity and aim into the Garvey sisters’ weak spots". (chronicallystreaming.com).When the first plan that the sister hatch goes south and a house is blown away as a result of their actions, they decide to not give up and keep on regardless. As the story moves forward, there is a succession of -failed- attempts at John Paul's life and the results are most often priceless and uproarious. The story is told in two distinct timelines: in the present we watch as the five sisters are hounded by two insurance agents, Thomas (B. Gleeson) and his half-brother Matthew (D. McCormack) who suspect foul play in John Paul's death; in the past timeline, we become the spectators of John Paul's malicious behavior which, sometimes, approximates to a cartoon character.
From the outset we are faced with the question if and how the sisters managed eventually to murder their brother-in-law and we are getting the answers in the process as we reach a deeply cleansing ending where everything gets resolved. I read somewhere that Bad Sisters is "an exercise in catharsis" and I couldn't agree more. The production values are on the highest possible level, the cinematography gives prominence to the dazzling Irish landscape while the performances will remain etched to your memories for long after finishing watching the show. Claes Bang, in one of his finest moments in his career, is terrific as he creates a thoroughly wretched character who becomes instantly abhorred by the audience and forces us to overlook the sisters' shortcomings, rotting for them all the way until the end. It is not common to empathize with wannabe murderers but in this case, trust me, you will want to make an exception. I am lucky enough to have watched the Belgian prototype and I used to thing that nothing and nobody could surpass the splendor of Dirk Roofthooft's portrayal of Jean-Claude but I was proved wrong as Bang is equally great in his depiction of a singular character that will make you laugh with all your heart despite his malicious attitude. It's been a while since I chuckled with a television series and the light tone of Bad Sisters managed to penetrate the walls of my seriousness.
As a final note, I would like to add that this production was originally intended to be a limited series, however, it has renewed for a second season and Horgan has stated that the plan is to bring back the same core of characters for another cycle, featuring a new story. There are no news regarding the current stage of development for this project, so keep your eyes open for any updates.