In 2016, The Out-Laws (known as Clan when it aired in its native Belgium in 2012) became a word-of-mouth sleeper hit on More4. Compared to a Flemish Desperate Housewives, it was an absorbing black comedy about four close-knit siblings who devise a succession of backfiring schemes to kill the emotionally abusive husband of their fifth sister that even Wile E. Coyote might consider slightly ludicrous.
Six years later, and the English-language remake, retitled Bad Sisters, arrives on Apple TV+, the first product of executive producer/co-writer/star Sharon Horgan’s first-look deal with the platform. While the action relocates to Ireland, most of the central plot-points remain in place. Nicknamed ‘The Prick’ by the titular Garvey sisters, John Paul Williams (Claes Bang) boasts the douche-iest views you’re likely to find outside of the Conservative leadership race. He takes sadistic glee in ruining the lives of those around him: reducing his wife Grace (Anne-Marie Duff, heading up a terrific cast) to emotional rubble, and destructively going through the sisters’ lives like a hereditary disease. He’s the kind of…well, prick that takes his own ‘Male’ sign to his company’s unisex toilets.
We open with John Paul dead in a casket (replete with a Six Feet Under-style moment of Grace attempting to conceal his errant rigor-mortis erection) from an unidentified suspicious accident, before flashbacks reveal the motives for each of the sisters – hard-drinking Eva (Horgan), philandering nurse Ursula (Eva Birthistle), eyepatch-wearing Bibi (Sarah Greene) and youngest of the brood, massage therapist Becka (Eve Hewson) – having a reason to kill him. But who did it? Two insurance firm brothers are on the Garveys trail, like a pair of hapless Columbros, hoping to avoid a pay-out that will bankrupt them. Secrets spill out, but it’s more than a Blarney Big Little Lies.
Anglo adaptions of foreign TV are often a mixed bag, but hiring Horgan – who has a history of writing dark, complex, female-led comedies that make us care for characters who behave terribly – to helm the project is a masterstroke, as she smooths out some of the wild tonal jumps of the parent show, and anchors the hyper-real pulpiness of the plot with no-nonsense, funny dialogue and naturalistic relationships. With its haunting theme tune – a cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Who By Fire’ from PJ Harvey, who also co-composed its bewitching soundtrack – it establishes its own atmosphere from the start.
The family dynamics and interaction between sisters is well-observed, as is how one awful man can change the molecular structure of the air in a room. And, by the end of the second episode, we already have the Garveys first attempt on John Paul’s life – by burning down his log cabin while his wife and daughter are out living their best life at a Lizzo concert. Many other attempts follow, but the format never grows dull. So sit back, and enjoy the ride.
Episodes one and two stream on Apple TV+ from August 19, then weekly