The Sinner Focus on The Psychosocial Why of Horrible Deeds
The Sinner (2017-2021) was originally a USA Network anthology series examining ordinary people’s motives when committing brutal crimes. Rather than the forensics of murder, it delved into the “psychosocial why” of horrible deeds.
The television adaptation is the creative brainchild of writer/producer Derek Simonds (The Astronaut Wives Club). The Sinner draws its story and characters from Petra Hammesfahr’s book of the same name. Episodic directors include Antonio Campos (3 episodes), Brad Anderson, Cherien Dabis, Jody Lee Lipes, and Tucker Gates (2 episodes) – each adding their flare to the series.
Initially intended to be a one-season limited series, The Sinner stars Bill Pullman (Dark Waters, The High Note) as Detective Harry Ambrose, Jessica Hecht (The Boys, Hudson Falls) as Sonya Barzel, Indianapolis native Dohn Norwood (Magnum P.I., Animal Kingdom) as Harry’s partner Detective Dan Leroy, and Adam LeFevre (The Manchurian Candidate, Fool’s Gold) as the Police Chief.
Each multi-episode season focuses on a different offender. Season one follows Cora Tannetti, played by Jessica Biel (Bojack Horseman, Candy). Cora’s husband, Mason Tannetti, was played by Christopher Abbott (Possessor). The troubled Cora commits a heinous murder during a family outing in clear view of the friends and neighbors, leaving no question of her guilt. Biel is outstanding, almost riveting in her portrayal of the young mother, creating sympathy and a need to understand ‘why.’ This focus on the ‘why’ is central to the series.
The second season is mesmerizing and stars Carrie Coon (Widows, Avengers: Endgame) as Vera Walker. Coon gives an electric performance, and the chemistry between the cast is palpable. Casting throughout the four seasons is brilliant and undoubtedly leads to the unexpected success of the limited series.
Season three stars Frances Fisher (Awake, The Expanse) as Meg Muldoon with Matt Bomer playing Jamie Burns. Jamie is a married high school teacher and soon-to-be father whose college friend Nick (Chris Malina) needs his help.
Thematically, The Sinner explores murder, sex, morality, religion, and family combined in a gumbo-like style that reflects real life. The foundation of each season is Detective Ambrose’s interaction with an alleged criminal. Ambrose is strange with quirky policing methods, accepted by his colleagues. He is not lovably eccentric but slightly off, even creepy at times. As the story progresses, a peculiar understanding of the detective’s amoral lifestyle and his tenacious, almost obsessive need to discover the truth emerges. Ambrose is a testament to Bill Pullman’s ability to provide edge and depth to his characters.
The music of The Sinner is worth mentioning. The season one soundscape was diegetic. The song choices were strangely appropriate yet supported the story, whereas season twos and subsequent soundtracks are complementary yet vital.
Over the past five years, The Sinner has picked up 16 award nominations, including the 2018 Golden Globes and 2018 Primetime Emmy Awards, both for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie, Jessica Biel. Carrie Coon received the nomination for the 2019 Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards, Best Actress in a Limited Series. And Bill Pullman was nominated for the 2019 Screen Actors Guild-Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Limited Series.
This thriller noir is genuinely entertaining, weirdly fascinating, and layered with twists and turns. Each episode quickly passes as viewers deliquesce into The Sinner’s world. Just as we are shocked at the person’s criminality next door, there’s something effortlessly salacious about this psychological thriller. A plus for the series is that each season is a stand-alone story. Watching previous seasons is not necessary, although highly recommended, to understand the characters and plot line.
All four seasons of The Sinner are currently available for streaming and on-demand.
The Sinner (2017) Official Trailer