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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Sinner is a dark drama about a troubled woman who suddenly commits a bloody murder. That murder is a stabbing on a public beach, in front of witnesses including the woman's 4-year-old son. We see a man being stabbed, with blood and gore; afterward, we see his dead body with stab wounds and the murderer drenched in blood, images that this drama flashes back to frequently. Other disturbing imagery includes a desperately ill baby/young child and a man in a consensual sadistic/masochistic relationship with a woman who steps on his hands as a form of foreplay. Characters flirt, kiss, and have sex with moaning and thrusting; no private parts are visible, but a man does pull a woman's hand to his crotch to display his erection. A woman is visible nude from the rear while showering. Cursing is infrequent: "s--t," "hell." A woman takes (prescription?) sleeping pills at night; she begs for them and says "I need them" when she can't get them.
Started off well but…
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sex, violence, bdsm, trauma
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What's the Story?
In the eight-part drama THE SINNER, Jessica Biel is Cora, an average mom and wife who commits a sudden, brutal murder on a public beach. Her husband, Mason (Chris Abbott), is as mystified as everyone else: Why would his calm and loving wife, mother of his 4-year-old child, suddenly snap and murder what seems to be a complete stranger? As police sift through the scant evidence to explain Cora's crime, Detective Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman), a complicated cop with a complicated personal life, is drawn to uncover the secrets in Cora's past.
Is It Any Good?
Unique, intriguing, and complicated, this dark drama will have viewers eager to find out what secrets each of its compelling characters is hiding. Why would a "friendly mom who volunteers at the Y" suddenly stab a total stranger to death on a crowded beach? What's the story behind the childhood flashbacks she keeps having of her sick little sister and angry mother? Why does the detective investigating her case stop by a woman's house to be hurt? Is it punishment or pleasure he's after?
If we were granted access to the inside of Cora's head, this series would be over in 10 minutes. Instead, we're left to draw conclusions from the way the characters interact -- what they reveal to each other, and what they keep private -- as well as teasing flashbacks that reveal just a bit of the backstory each time we see one. The Sinner is a slow burn -- and thus some may find it a bit balky -- but as the twists are slowly doled out, patient viewers are rewarded with compelling answers in what USA is calling a "whydunit" instead of a "whodunit."
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about why dramas about murder like The Sinner are such an enduring staple of network television. What types of ongoing possibilities for plots do they offer? Why would this be compelling for a television series?
How would the events portrayed in The Sinner affect a real-life community, and how accurately and thoroughly does the series explore that? How would your community handle the death of a man at the hands of an unexpected killer?
What role does bullying play in this series? What different forms can bullying take? What's the difference between bullying and conflicts between characters?
- Premiere date: August 2, 2017
- Cast: Jessica Biel, Bill Pullman, Christopher Abbott
- Network: USA
- Genre: Drama
- TV rating: TV-14
- Last updated: February 18, 2023
Our Editors Recommend
Big Little Lies
Rape, murder, class conflicts simmer in terrific drama.
Violent, layered adaptation is dark but thrilling.
Unbleeped swearing muddies a good message.
For kids who love mysteries
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate