Sisters review: They said it was the Irish Fleabag, then the sweary drunks and low-key anti-Semites showed up

Television: The show has some of Fleabag’s cruelty but it lacks its screwball energy and its jokes

Oh brother, is Sisters a let-down. The chatter around this new sitcom from writer/actors Susan Stanley and Sarah Goldberg (RTÉ One, 10.15pm) is that it had the potential to be the Irish equivalent of Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s witheringly hilarious chronicling of life as a 30-something woman. But while it has some of Fleabag’s cruelty it lacks its screwball energy. And its jokes.

It also, alas, has half an eye on the international market. When Canadian Sare (Goldberg) travels to Ireland in search of her father, she discovers a country full of feckless, sweary drunks and low-key anti-Semites. Early on, a heavily hungover character wakes in a swanky hotel to the strains of Shane MacGowan singing Dirty Old Town. Americans are going to lap it up (Sisters is a co-production with IFC, a division of the American AMC network).

It’s a shame Sisters misses the mark because it is well-acted. Stanley and Goldberg, from Dublin and Canada, met at drama school in London and share an easy chemistry. They play Suze and her half-sibling Sare, who are completely unaware of each other’s existence until Sare’s late mother drops a bombshell in her will regarding a secret dad.

You keep wishing it was funnier. A scene in which Suze calls on her father’s ex-wife, Sheryl (Sophie Thompson), feels ripe for hilarious misunderstanding. Instead the show decides to create on the spot the caricature of a boozy Irish mammy fascinated by Suze’s Jewishness. She’s a sort of anti-Semitic riff on Mrs Doyle from Father Ted – an uncanny valley creation who gets uncannier as Thompson, sister of Emma, struggles with the accent.


“Are you a Jew ... sing us something Jewish then?” she wonders. She also drinks constantly. We’re verging on Saturday Night Live Irish Oscars territory.

If Sare is adrift after discovering her family’s secret history, Suze is a straightforward mess. She’s broke and about to be ejected from her flat (full marks for realism there at least). She is also carrying on with a sleazy artist. Not that his seediness really sets him apart. Almost every Irish man in Sisters is an indolent creep. “You have an Irish father – god help ya,” says Suze to Sare at one point. There is a suggestion, meanwhile, that Suze’s ex was a catch, by Irish standards, because he didn’t hit her.

Suze and Teddy end up snogging in a car before he turns into a full-fledged sex pest. The sequence is played for laughs though, judging from what we see on screen, Teddy is a sociopath who should probably be on some sort of offenders’ register.

Stanley and Goldberg have dramatic range and the first episode is competently directed by Declan Lowney, an Irishman who started on Father Ted but recently worked on the dire Ted Lasso (so a tale of Two Teds and not in a good way).

But the gags rarely land and it’s never fun spending time with these sour, angry boozehounds. Actually, maybe the Shane MacGowan wink at the start makes sense after all. These characters seem to think they’re trapped in a Pogues’ song, the world filtered through a prism of booze and misanthropy. In the end, they evoke not laughter but pity.