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Hulu's The Sister is a grown-up thriller audience

  • "The Sister, a British hit that debuts on Hulu this week, adapts the 2008 Neil Cross novel Burial and makes for a clammy, sparingly vicious crime story with a Blood Simple hook," says Michael Phillips. "Will the guilt-ridden protagonist played by Russell Tovey — purveyor of the best deceptive, dry-mouthed alibi delivery in modern television — get away with it? Should he? Cross’s adaptation has been toned down and cleaned up for its source material. The Sister's not a grabber. It’s a simmer, intended for a relatively grown-up thriller audience. It’s also practically denuded of bit players. When someone sits in a pub, or enters a police station, humanity has all but vanished. The limited series, coolly absorbing, makes do with five main characters, all superbly acted; four episodes, shot in pre-COVID 2019; roughly three hours of story; two tons of often comically fraught interplay; and a single, potent buried secret."


    • The Sister isn't compelling enough for your full attention span: "Perhaps the most generous reading that could be afforded The Sister’s thick padding and endless fakeouts is that it’s a throwback to 'background TV' — programming that’s written for only sporadic attention," says Inkoo Kang. "That would at least explain the bare-bones plotting and the irksome repetition of certain lines of dialogue. But even then, Cross’ scripts feel like miscalculation after miscalculation — not enough, initially, for audiences to get invested, then too many coincidences to stay engaged, with earlier pieces of the puzzle not quite fitting with the later ones. For all its supposed spookiness, The Sister is closer to a lump than a bump in the night."
    • Russell Tovey is one of TV’s great discoveries of the last several years: "The British actor seems perpetually cast as the cad, the overly assured fellow whose pride brings him in for a fall — and yet his charm and some innate vulnerable quality a couple of layers down keep us, if not ever on his side, then at least engaged in what lies ahead for him," says Daniel D'Addario. "In Looking and Years and Years, Tovey’s characters’ missteps pushed the story along, while their sensitivity kept us watching. He’s now at center stage in The Sister, a four-part limited series that first aired on Britain’s ITV and is to appear on Hulu Jan. 22. And it’s he who makes the series — created by Neil Cross of Luther and inspired by Cross’s own novel — work, inasmuch as it does."
    • The Sister is drowning in the British prestige TV aesthetic: "The central couple have an inexplicably large pristine and very modern house in the countryside which doesn’t feel lived in," says Oluwatayo Adewole. "Most of the scenes are shot at night and have a familiar twilight blue hue to them. Ben Wheeler’s cinematography is perfectly serviceable here, at times really capturing the nuances of Tovey’s performance, but for the most part it feels rote. The problem here is that the lack of a sense of place means that all the events taking place feel a little weightless. You’re clearly meant to be invested in the tragedy of the degradation of this ideal domesticity, but it’s hard to do that when there’s nothing unique about the place for you to hold onto."
    • Sometimes there’s nothing more enjoyable than watching a TV character’s world fall completely apart, episode by episode, slowly and surely
    • Russell Tovey discusses The Sister's ending

    TOPICS: The Sister, Hulu, Neil Cross, Russell Tovey