“Unlike a lot of procedural thrillers,” muses showrunner Derek Simonds, “with ‘The Sinner’ you learn right from the start of the season who committed the crime and the how and where and whom,” he explains about his USA Network anthology crime drama. “It gives us a great opportunity to focus on the psychology and the psyche of the characters.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Simonds above.
“The Sinner” stars SAG nominee Bill Pullman as Detective Harry Ambrose, who investigates bizarre murder cases over season-long arcs from a uniquely empathetic point of view. Harry’s tortured past and emotional baggage weigh on him heavily as he identifies and uncovers the psychology behind a killer’s actions, giving the audience insight into a character’s motivations, desires and demons.
The show premiered in 2017, with its freshman season delving into the troubled past of a young mother (played by Emmy nominee and executive producer Jessica Biel) who snaps and brutally murders a man without provocation. After proving to be a critical and commercial hit, it shifted from a limited series to a drama series when USA Network renewed the show for a second and third season. Last season focused on a 13 year-old boy (Elisha Henig) who confesses to brutally poisoning a man and woman that he is traveling with.
This past season, Pullman returned opposite Emmy nominee Matt Bomer as Jamie Burns, a local high school teacher involved in a horrific car crash. The two leading men inevitably cross paths after the crash as Ambrose uncovers a hidden crime that pulls him into the most dangerous and disturbing case of his career. Meanwhile, Burns spirals out of control when his desperation for human connection manifests itself into an explosive rage that has terrifying and tragic consequences.
Simonds was keen to focus the show’s third season on themes of masculinity, how men are expected to behave and the relationships they have with other men. “It’s really the whole point of the season for me as a writer, looking at platonic, non-erotic relationships between men that have this real intimate intensity to them,” he says, adding that “we either have a bro culture posturing or its immediately gay and threatening and feminized. There’s these two poles and we don’t really see the opportunity for closeness and tenderness between two guys. I do hope it starts conversations about toxic masculinity and how our views about masculinity are keeping these kinds of intimate connections between men from being possible.”
Similarly, it is Ambrose’s empathy for criminals and victims alike that allow this show to turn the genre on its head. “With the iconography of the detective from the film noir days,” Simonds explains, “the detective is always this hyper-masculine, tough guy who doesn’t really express his emotions and he’s brooding. It’s having his superpower be not this crazy intellect and Sherlock Holmes style talent but rather his empathy, his emotional empathy with the criminals that he encounters.”
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