The Sinner never felt like a huge hit, but it did feel like a show that was pretty well-liked by everyone who liked it. Both a little too popular and not quite obsessed over enough to qualify as a cult hit, the twisty "whydunit" mystery anthology series nevertheless ran for four very solid seasons on USA before ending in 2021. The fourth and final season just hit Netflix, so now the entire series is available to stream in one place, which should hopefully give it one last push for new and returning fans to get into it.
Each season on The Sinner, Det. Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) tries to solve a case in which he knows who committed the crime, but not why the person did it. Ambrose is a psychologically wounded man who's suffered a lot of pain in his life, and the crimes he investigates all have a component that remind him of something he needs to process from his own past. In Season 1, for example, Ambrose investigates the case of Cora Tannetti (Jessica Biel, an executive producer of the show), a mild-mannered mother who stabs a man to death on a beach in a seemingly random act of violence, but who Ambrose is able to deduce is hiding traumatic childhood secrets that explain why she did what she did, because he had a similarly difficult upbringing.
If you feel like The Sinner getting canceled was a sin and are missing its gloomy mysteries, here are some other great mystery shows to watch to ease the pain. They all have something in common with The Sinner, such as a whydunit structure and/or a troubled investigator at the center of the story. There's even one show from a former producer/cast member with a weirdly similar premise that's based on a true story this time.
Jessica Biel has a very specific role she likes to play: an ordinary-seeming housewife who brutally kills someone under bizarre circumstances. In this Hulu limited series she also executive-produces, she plays Candy Montgomery, a Texas housewife who killed her best friend Betty Gore (Melanie Lynskey), supposedly in self-defense, in 1980. The series gets deep into her psychological state as it tries to understand why she did it. Sounds familiar, right? Candy is less of a mystery and more of a character drama, and is based on a true crime story instead of a novel, but that setup is so similar to The Sinner that it's kind of weird. It's like Jessica Biel is typecasting herself. We're not complaining, though; we thoroughly enjoy the "Jessica Biel is a killer" genre.
The Sinner's chilly tone is influenced by Nordic noir, a subgenre of detective shows with a distinctly downbeat Scandinavian sensibility, so fans should feel right at home with the Icelandic limited series The Valhalla Murders. Even the setup should feel a bit familiar to fans of The Sinner. It's about a local detective investigating a murder and uncovering that it's connected to an unsolved string of murders from decades ago and a conspiracy to cover up what happened at a government-run boys' home. Helping her is a police consultant who is from Iceland but now lives in Norway, returning to help solve a crime he may be more connected to than he lets on. Come for the murder mystery, stay for the breathtaking Icelandic scenery.
This Stephen King adaptation ran for a single season on HBO in early 2020, and features a whydunit with a supernatural angle that gradually turns it into a whodunit and then into a proper Stephen King-style humans vs. monster showdown. Ben Mendelsohn plays Ralph Anderson, this show's take on the troubled detective, a grieving father who's investigating a very strange child murder. There's incriminating evidence that the murder was committed by his son's former Little League coach (Jason Bateman, who also produces and directs), but equally strong evidence that places him in another state at the time of the murder. And then as other people connected to the case start dying, Anderson has to accept that something paranormal is afoot, which leads to him enlisting Holly Gibney (Cyntha Erivo), a brilliant private detective with borderline clairvoyant abilities. If you like the supernatural-ish stuff around the margins of The Sinner, then you'll enjoy the The Outsider, which is marinated in it.
Similar to The Sinner, this is a show about a troubled middle-aged cop getting personally wrapped up in a murder case in his rural small town (on The Sinner, the towns are in upstate New York and Maine, while American Rust is set in western Pennsylvania). Jeff Daniels stars as Del Harris, the chief of police of the opioid-plagued town of Buell, who's investigating a murder allegedly committed by Billy Poe (Alex Neustaedter), the son of the woman Harris loves, Grace Poe (Maura Tierney), which compromises his integrity. Daniels and Tierney's masterful acting elevate a pretty standard mystery. Showtime canceled it after one season, but it will return for a future season on Amazon Freevee.
If an absorbing crime show is what you want, an absorbing crime show is what you'll get with Mare of Easttown. Much like The Sinner, it follows a tired detective working to solve a murder case, but Mare is most interesting for the ways it plays with the well-worn tropes of the genre. It follows the titular Mare (Kate Winslet), yet another small-town Pennsylvania detective, this time from the Philadelphia end of the state, as she investigates the killing of a local teen girl while simultaneously coping with her own deeply set trauma. It's cool to see a woman take on the prickly cop role, and it helps that the mystery at the show's center is so twisty and enthralling, ultimately culminating in a finale that links its main cast of characters directly to the murder in an incredibly chilling way. It also contains a scene where Jean Smart plays Fruit Ninja on an iPad. Mare really is the show that has it all. -Allison Picurro
Netflix's Alias Grace flew under the radar compared to that other Margaret Atwood adaptation, but it's a stunner. The harrowing six-episode miniseries, inspired by the story of a real-life 19th century killer, stars Sarah Gadon as Grace Marks, a maid famous for committing a murder she can't remember. Fans of The Sinner will recognize some of Jessica Biel's troubled Cora in Grace, who spends the series spinning her possibly unreliable tale to a psychiatrist sent to judge her sanity. Gadon is electric, and the talent behind the scenes makes Alias Grace sing: It's written by actress-turned-filmmaker Sarah Polley and directed by American Psycho's Mary Harron, who builds a sense of simmering pressure that leaves Grace with nowhere to run. -Kelly Connolly
This Polish series is an adaptation of a novel by Harlan Coben, whose popular mystery thrillers have been the basis for a number of Netflix shows. Like The Sinner, is splashes around in the same murky waters of crime and secrets, oh so many secrets! In The Woods, a man looks for answers about the disappearance of his sister 25 years earlier, when four teens went into the woods and never came out, hoping that she's alive even as bodies and new evidence are being pulled out. If the things you like about The Sinner are the unpredictable twists and gloomy tone, check this one out. -Tim Surette
Stephen King experts will point to this as one of the best TV adaptations of his work, even though hardly anyone saw it because it was an original series that was tucked away on AT&T's Audience Network. But the likeness to The Sinner is there: they're both adapted from books, they both have sinister villains and creepy cases, and each has a lead who is a hard-nosed, grizzled detective with a salt-and-pepper beard. The man on the hunt in this series is retired detective Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson), whose story begins when a man plows his Mercedes into a crowd, killing 16. Soon, Hodges finds himself in a cat-and-mouse game with a twisted psychopath named Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway). Unlike The Sinner, there's more of a serialized story across seasons — though each season certainly has a unique flavor — and King's love of the supernatural comes into play in a wild way in Season 2. -Tim Surette
Unique setting? Check. Cops with serious issues taking an investigation very personally? Check. A new murder case every season? Check and double check. Chicago Fire veteran Monica Raymund stars as Jackie Quiñones, a police officer (formerly a Marine Fisheries Services agent) in Provincetown, Mass., a resort town with a dangerous drug problem among the locals (Jackie is an alcoholic and an addict herself). When a young woman is murdered and Jackie finds her body, she begins working with equally troubled statie Ray Abruzzo (James Badge Dale) on the case. They're trying to solve the case while facing down their own personal demons. Hightown places more emphasis on its crime drama elements than The Sinner, but the shows have some strong thematic overlap.
The mystery of The Sinner is less about who did it and more about why. Identifying the killer is just the beginning of unraveling everyone's dark secrets. If you're looking for another detective series that skips right past the whodunit angle and points directly to the bad guy, check out The Fall, a tense cat-and-mouse game between a cool investigator and the violent serial killer who gets under her skin. Gillian Anderson stars as Stella Gibson, an English detective superintendent brought to Northern Ireland to assist on a case; Jamie Dornan plays her prey, Paul Spector, a married father who leads a double life murdering young women in Belfast. The story loses steam as it goes, but at its height, it's a thrill: a bloody, baffling chess match that's also kind of about how most misogynistic serial killers are just boring creeps. It's Gibson who runs the show, subtly rewriting the rules around enigmatic female detectives on TV. -Kelly Connolly
The best part of The Sinner is its focus on exploring the psychology of why someone did what they did. Another show that makes the motive the mystery is Quicksand, a Swedish limited series about a teenage girl named Maja (Hanna Ardéhn) who's charged with murder for her role in a school shooting. Quicksand tells the story of how this seemingly normal young person got into the trouble they're in, like The Sinner does with Cora Tannetti and Season 2's Julian Walker (Elisha Henig). There's even a slightly odd detective working on her case, tobacco-chewing Inspector Jeanette Nilsson (Rebecka Hemse).