Bad Sisters: Sharon Horgan wonders if murder is always wrong

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If you’re one of those people who wants to wait until a whole series has dropped before making a start, then now is the time to get into Bad Sisters.

If you’re one of those people who have already been on the Bad Sisters train, then you know that the punchy, darkly funny and clever show is one of the streaming highlights of the year.

The show, co-created by Sharon Horgan, is adapted from a Flemish series but Bad Sisters transports the action to Ireland.

Horgan is an Irish writer, filmmaker and actor best known for co-creating with Rob Delaney the riotous relationship comedy Catastrophe as well Divorce and Pulling. She’s also starred in Aisling Bea’s This Way Up, Game Night, Military Wives and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.

Bad Sisters is centred on the Garvey sisters – Eva (Horgan), Grace (Anne-Marie Duff), Ursula (Eva Birthistle), Bibi (Sarah Greene) and Becka (Eve Hewson). They’re close-knit and fiercely protective of each other.

And that means saving Grace from her abusive husband JP (Claes Bang), who they’ve nicknamed The Prick. The 10-episode Bad Sisters mostly deals with the four other sisters plotting to kill their awful brother-in-law.

The show opens with a dead JP, so you know he will be dispatched, the mystery is who does it and how. It’s an uproarious, irreverent ride but one which brings up all sorts of thorny questions around if it’s actually OK to kill in the right circumstances.

Horgan sat down with to have a chat about the show, the difference between what’s right and what’s legal, why American women in particularly responded so strongly, and bad men.

Mild spoilers follow for Bad Sisters

The thing that I kept thinking about was how difficult it is to get an audience on the side of would-be murderers. Was that something you guys had to think about a lot during the writing process?

We thought about it all the time. It was our big worry. If the audience isn’t behind them, if they don’t fully believe that they are rescuing a woman who needs to be rescued, then we were in big trouble.

No matter how diabolical he is, you have to hate him more than the despicable thing that they’re about to do. Not that it’s despicable, if you know what I mean. It’s certainly against the law!

You are initially on board for Grace and then you stay on board because you see what he’s doing to each of the sisters.

And then it was whether the audience would stay on side with them across the whole 10 episodes, to stay hungry for his blood. That is a harder thing.

It’s easier to justify murder on behalf of someone else, but when the reasons become your own as well, it becomes thornier.

Yes, it gets a bit murky. But I didn’t think feel we could have, with Ursula for example, a murkiness to her reasoning. We just had to make sure we took that character on a journey where you could see it not pay off for her.

That was really interesting to take her on that journey and see what she would do for love but also for herself. To save her skin, to have her cake and eat it too.

There are huge journeys for all of them, like Bibi, who starts off gungho but is the one who ends up trying to pull them back. They all end up in an unexpected place.

Is Bad Sisters saying there is a difference between what is right and what is legal?

Yeah, for sure. That’s absolutely one of the reasons why an audience allows themselves to actually enjoy the idea that they’re going to get him this time, you know?

I genuinely feel the sisters feel like they have no choice, and because it is for the most part done for love. They feel if they don’t act now, they’re going to lose Grace forever.

You don’t necessarily have to be on the right side of the law for that to be an act of love.

The series gets into some very serious issues such as domestic abuse, emotional abuse and physical abuse. What are some of the most interesting reactions you’ve had to it so far?

We’ve had all sorts of reactions, especially from American women. We launched our show in New York and they felt like it was a real catharsis because of everything that’s happening over here politically. Having their abortion rights taken away and losing their autonomy and a feeling of hopelessness.

And just anger that, for the most part, it’s older white religious men making these choices, and JP the prick personified all of that.

He is a hypocrite who uses religion to suit him. He considers himself to be on the side of moral righteousness. And these women get to kill him. They get to hunt him down and they do it collectively by activating the sisterhood.

It’s only TV but I do feel like it can have an impact, that it can allow you to release a valve in some way.

What was the process of writing a character like JP, imbuing him with the worst aspects of patriarchy? Were there ever any points where you thought, ‘this is too far, no real person is like this’ but also, we know that they do exist?

It’s the opposite of going too far, isn’t it? I find myself gasping at the deeds that are done in plain site by men in positions of power. And I’m not saying that women in positions of power, that there aren’t some bad eggs there.

We’re in a moment of talking about this particular issue, of what’s going on in the world where we seem to be going backwards apart from some specific countries. It’s so hard to believe the reality I read in the papers every day.

It is something you have to walk a fine line with, the tricky thing with it is that there’s comedy as well. So we have to sometimes lean into the comedy of this fool of a man. Like, when he’s at work, how he tries to be a big man.

You want to add those comedic beats and push it even further but at the same time, you don’t want people to think ‘that’s ridiculous’.

I kept thinking about historical male characters and even men I’ve met in my own life – partners of friends, colleagues I’ve met at work. I got heavily into true crime for a while, so all of those characters exist in real life. I immersed myself in the evil of man.

And JP is not a cartoon, he’s a real person, unfortunately.

Through killing him off in fiction, were you able to release some of your own demons after spending time in that world?

I think so! I weirdly got my kicks out of humiliating him.

To me it was really important that the character wasn’t dangerously [attractive] because Claes is a handsome man. And there was always a bit of worry that he might seem like a sort of sexy, dangerous abuser.

So we made a fool of him. Like when Gabriel punches him and he lands on the toilet and he has the wet print on his trouser seat. And when he walks around the office with his ridiculous cake, like a big boy on his birthday. Or in general when the sisters are able to laugh at him.

That’s when I was getting my rocks off.

Bad Sisters is streaming now on Apple TV+

Originally published as Bad Sisters: Sharon Horgan wonders if murder is always wrong

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