THE SINNER (USA Network and Netflix) is a crime drama/mystery series based on the international bestseller by German crime writer Petra Hammesfahr. It’s compelling, well-produced, and often ridiculous.
Imagine a beach filled with laughing people, zero in on a young couple and their toddler son. Cora, the mom (Jessica Biel in an alternating strong and flat performance) suddenly snaps. In the aftermath of the horrific crime, the mom confesses and says she has no idea why she did it. The only person who cares why is Detective Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman at his squinty best). Harry explores a period of Cora’s past she can’t remember to get at the truth, exposing the real horror of what happened to her and why she snapped.
This is the TV equivalent of a page turner. Frustration and titillation with endless small reveals, some of them red herrings from an unreliable narrator, followed by big reveals and then catharsis of everything unraveling. It’s over the top enough to be ridiculous at times, such as the endless time and resources Harry is able to put to the benefit of a confessed murderer, and the easy way everything unravels at the end. The visual direction and snappy pacing, however, keep you involved. The acting is also great, though Biel is kind of flat, partly due to her character having very little independent personality other than what people project on her.
In the end, for me, THE SINNER was just fun, a guilty pleasure of sorts, consumable as popcorn but as easily forgotten, A for production and B/B- for story.
The second season started airing on USA Network August 1, 2018, with a different story told with Detective Harry Ambrose returning as a central character.