An unfortunate side effect of “Peak TV” is the problem of discerning which new series are worth investing our time in. Between potential cancellations or the eternal fear of watching the wrong show and missing out on the next big thing, there’s always a reason to hold off on tuning in to a new series. Rest assured, that The Sinner is a series that is well worth tuning in for. The eight-part miniseries, which has its Canadian premiere August 21 on Showcase, offers a compelling mystery wrapped in terrific performances and intense themes.
The Sinner is based off the bestselling novel of the same name, written by award-winning German author Petra Hammesfahr. It tells the story of Cora Tannetti, played by Jessica Biel, whose ordinary day at the beach with her husband and son turns horrific when she suddenly and violently stabs a stranger to death. She pleads guilty and insists on serving her time, but Harry Ambrose, the man in charge of the investigation, played by Bill Pullman, insists there is more to the story, and quickly begins to unravel a far more complicated mystery than anyone anticipated.
Interwoven with the tantalizing mystery is a solid amount of tension, which steadily builds from the first shot of the episode until the moment that the dam breaks and Cora stabs a man in the neck. The series pilot is a packed episode that throws a lot of heavy themes within its first 40 minutes, including religious extremism, coping with trauma, and a slightly more complex picture of human sexuality than we’re used to seeing on our television screens. Both Cora and Ambrose have a complicated relationship toward sex that we only get a peak at in the first episode, but will undoubtedly become part of the bigger picture as the story moves along.
What really makes this series work, however, are the performances by Biel and Pullman. The Sinner emphasizes from the very start that there’s something off about Cora–a sadness and anxiety that Biel expertly conveys without uttering a word. Puzzling out what is going through her head at any given moment is just as compelling of a mystery as what led to the murder in the first place. It’s the kind of meaty role that any actress would love to get their hands on, and Biel more than does it justice.
While Ambrose is less demanding from Pullman, he also pulls out a great performance here as a detective that immediately recognizes a bigger picture from what he’s presented and vies to get the answers. Pullman does a lot of heavy lifting while Cora remains somewhat of an enigma, keeping us drawn in to the story when Biel is off camera.
Premiering just as the summer draws to a close, The Sinner is sure to whet your appetite for the ahead of the Fall TV season. It draws you in within the first 10 minutes, and will make you want to devour another episode as soon as it’s finished–but you’ll have to watch it yourself to find out.
Will you be tuning in to learn the mystery behind Cora? Sound off in the comments below.
The Sinner premieres Monday, August 21 at 10 p.m. ET on Showcase in Canada, and airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on USA in the U.S.
Associate Editor Kelly Townsend always had strong opinions on TV growing up, so it was only natural to evolve from couch musings to online journalism. She can't ever choose a favorite series, so please don't ask. Her writing has also appeared on IndieWire and Tribute.ca. You can find her on Twitter at @kellybtownsend.