Every TV detective has their ‘thing’. Monk had his OCD. Kojak had his lollipops. And Detective Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) has trees and autoerotic asphyxiation. In fact, mixed in with the murders, mind-games, manipulation, and philosophy, The Sinner manages to squeeze in quite a lot of kink. Which is surprising for a 15-rated show. But then there’s a lot about The Sinner that’s surprising.
From the superlative acting to the twisty-turny plots, The Sinner is a series that turns the usual police procedural on its head. Each season begins by showing us ‘who done it’ and inviting us to follow Ambrose as he struggles to work out why.
The series is named after the 1999 novel by German author Petra Hammesfahr on which the first season was based. The Sinner was Hammesfahr’s break through novel and was on the bestseller list in Germany for 15 months.
Originally commissioned as an eight-part miniseries, after the huge success of the first season, the show was recommissioned as an anthology and finally ran to four seasons—earning multiple award nominations, including an Emmy, two Golden Globes, and a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination.
Each self-contained season follows Pullman’s taciturn Ambrose as he investigates crimes which appear to defy reason. Underlying each are several common themes and, by season 4, it’s starting to feel a little samey, ‘tho far from stale.
A rare combination of great writing and some nuanced acting makes The Sinner great TV. But it does need a content warning. The crimes are visceral and disturbing. The sex scenes are often just as violent and disturbing. The first is to be expected. The second frequently goes beyond the pale—and while I’d never be one to kink-shame, it’s always worrying to see sexual violence and coercion presented for no apparent reason other than audience tittalation.