The Irish actor and writer Sharon Horgan has explored the follies of parenthood in "Catastrophe" and the whims of divorce in "Divorce" on HBO. Therefore, it makes sense that her next endeavour would raise the stakes to mariticide.
The AppleTV+ comedy "Bad Sisters," which gets its finale on Saturday, has walked a fine line between comic and tragedy. The plot, which Horgan adapted from Malin-Sarah Gozin's original Belgian television series "Clan," explores sisterhood ties and patriarchal moral hypocrisy. It's one of the most talked-about shows on Apple, along with "Ted Lasso," "Severance," and "Slow Horses."
The five Garvey sisters—Eva (Horgan), Becka (Eve Hewson), Ursula (Eva Birthistle), Bibi (Sarah Greene), and Grace—are central to the narrative (Anne-Marie Duff). The first nine episodes of the series include four of them attempting to kill JP (Claes Bang), Grace's cruel, controlling husband, who is deteriorating due to the strain of the marriage. The funeral for JP serves as the series' first flashback, which follows.
Two insurance adjuster brothers (Brian Gleeson and Daryl McCormack), who are attempting to avoid paying out JP's life insurance claim by demonstrating that his death was not an accident, complicate the sisters' plan to rid the world of an irredeemably nasty apple. The series also addresses the emotional effects of domestic violence and sexual assault, even if the sisters' multiple botched murder attempts are frequently portrayed for comic laughs. It's a comedy with elements of tragedy and danger. "Bad Sisters" is a song that celebrates the strength of the sisterhood in the post-#MeToo, post-Roe world.
Horgan was one of five children born to a New Zealander father and an Irish mother in England. The family moved to Ireland when she was in grammar school to start a turkey farm there. Did she struggle to win her parents' attention? How did her upbringing affect her work as a performer?
Yes, she chuckles, "I did strain. "I really struggled. I kind of transformed into a clown. I would perform impressions, trip over, or do everything else necessary to catch my parents' attention. In a big family, you have to find that thing; you're the athletic or intelligent one. None of those things applied to me. Therefore, it is evident that I was the humorous one.
Horgan is currently planning to make a film, and she is also penning another comedy that she has compared to Linklater's work. Shining Vale, a Courteney Cox-starring thriller that she and Jeff Astrof co-created for Starz, is now in season two of development. Horgan emphasises that "Bad Sisters" was intended to be a limited series when addressing whether or not there will be a second season.
Will the sisters be discovered when the "Bad Sisters" series finale reveals everything? Who was JP's real killer? Horgan discusses the intensely emotional sequences with WWD as well as why Ireland is more progressive than the US and the current whereabouts of the beloved "Catastrophe" characters.
WWD: "Bad Sisters" was inspired by a Belgian television series. You took it and made some tweaks after that. Were you hoping to make a difference in a community of women?
After falling in love with it, Sharon Horgan acknowledged that she was in the market for a product that focused on a group of women or the five stages of a woman's life. And I've kind of experienced a lot of them. But I had no notion that my next project would be to create a thriller. That couldn't have been less likely, for the love of god. But I adored being a part of the genre.
It does have thriller-like characteristics, says WWD. But there are also times when it's a very sombre emotional drama, especially when it shows and talks about domestic abuse. How did you get around that?
S.H. : I find watching dramas where women are victims or criminal dramas where women are murdered and that is entertaining to be incredibly cynical. Additionally, the concept of the gorgeous rapist who engages in sex abuse has made me even more cynical. I was concerned about everything. I was really apprehensive about addressing a tale about a lady who’s in that kind of violent relationship and to do that in the framework of comedy. It has some very absurd moments, but it's not a comedy per per; rather, it's a drama with humour in it. I’ve never been more cautious in writing something and, you know, actually sleepless nights wondering if I was doing the right thing. And also questioning why I was doing it.
We started working on this just as [COVID-19] lockdown was coming on us. And pretty quickly after that it was a lot of stories in the press about the rise of domestic abuse, horror stories of women and vulnerable individuals locked up with their aggressors. The very concept of it that [inspired] me to do it right and to do it well. And of course, we had this enormously amazing actress [Duff] who couldn’t be any more capable of playing that kind of character. So, sure, that was terrifying. I mean, there are some extremely ridiculous [parts]. But then on the other hand, there are some of the most horrific scenes I’ve ever written. We just had to believe the content. But I never stopped worrying about it. So I was a bit of a wreck by the end of it.
WWD: There’s also a lot of drinking. And some of the drinking is to numb pain. Were you worried about displaying characters drinking too much?
S.H.: Weirdly, it was something that got spoken about a lot originally. When I started digging into Eva’s character more we worried about it [becoming] a stereotype. Sometimes it [alcohol] feels like a treat or a great convivial thing and sometimes it really isn’t. For Eva watching her falling asleep in front of the TV with a bottle next her, that image of having a drink on her own, when everyone goes home, that’s when it gets hard. But at the same time, I never wanted to present Eva as a tragic woman even if she’s living in that large house full of memories. I feel that a lot of people who are natural mothers don’t always get to be a mother. And I think, for the most part, she’s found a way to be OK with that. There’s a lot of promise in the character. It’s never straightforward, is it? You can never straightforwardly state, “I’m OK with being single, I’m OK with being on my own.” Because not everyone gets to peek behind closed doors when everyone goes home. And so for me, it was attempting to balance those two things.
WWD: In the penultimate episode, Eva discloses to her sisters that JP raped her. We are so accustomed to seeing you in humorous roles. How was that scenario for you, writing it and acting it?
S.H.: Writing it was kind of upsetting. But we made the choice to tell it rather than view it in a flashback. When Rob [Delaney] and I were working on “Catastrophe,” we would write it and not even think about ourselves uttering it because that’s where the story carried us. And so, I suppose it was the same for me with that situation. I wrote what needed to be written and it was truly, really painful. The weight of duty of telling a story that needs to be an abridged version of what would happen in real life, and yet trying to do credit to that. It truly, really hurt to do it. I recall doing an interview alongside Anne-Marie Duff and she stated your brain doesn’t know when your body is lying. That’s how it feels. You feel absolutely fatigued, upset.
WWD: Both “Bad Sisters” and “Catastrophe” are stories about parenthood, and somewhat distantly, reproductive rights. Last year Ireland voted to abolish a constitutional ban on abortion. Meanwhile in our country, a number of states have adopted limits and bans in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Do you think any of this ironic?
S.H.: Who would have thought?! Ireland is a beacon of light at the moment and a beautiful example of what can happen when people come together, discuss and stop being fearful of the other. There was the gay marriage referendum and then the abortion referendum. At the moment it’s a fairly enlightened scenario there. It was only after that I started thinking, these sisters are a walking metaphor, a walking TV metaphor. There is this very religious but hypocritical man who feels like he’s got God and moral virtue on his side and he sees them as the amoral ones. And then he gets pulled down by a bunch of women who gathered together and said, that’s enough.
WWD: “Catastrophe” was such a cult hit. A lot of admirers were disappointed when it ended. Do you still think about those characters? How do you imagine what they would be as parents of teenagers? Or are they even still a couple?
S.H.: If they’re not dead, sure, they’re a couple. We used to think about it a lot when we were on set. But we felt like we said everything that needs to be said about what it is to be parents with kids of that particular age. I do periodically think about them, but I don’t have a strong urge to go back and revisit them. I feel that [“Catastrophe”] was just totally right for that moment. You can love a show intensely, enjoy the characters and not feel the need to go back. It just feels contradictory. You’ve got to keep going forward.