The weirdest thing about USA's limited series The Sinner that no one seems to be talking about is that it's the same premise as Albert Camus' existentialist novel The Stranger, which has been read by just about every American high school student, especially sad ones, but apparently no German ones (Petra Hammesfahr, who wrote the novel on which The Sinner is based, is German). In both novels and on the show, the action is incited when a person brutally murders a stranger at the beach for no good reason, and then everyone including the protagonist tries to figure out why. The Stranger must be in the public domain, because otherwise the Camus estate would have sued for copyright infringement.
The Sinner is not the first adaptation-in-spirit of The Stranger. English rock band The Cure's career-starting 1978 single "Killing an Arab" has lyrics inspired by the book. Any sad high schooler can tell you this. I wonder if Jessica Biel ever went through a Cure phase. Anyway, here are the ways that The Sinner is like "Killing an Arab" even when it's different. Maybe at the end we can determine which is the superior Stranger descendent.
1. The Sinner and "Killing an Arab" each have a gloomy, depressing atmosphere, but The Sinner moves at a languid pace, while "Killing an Arab" is a propulsive post-punk song. "Killing an Arab" is catchier.
2. In The Sinner, the killer is a woman named Cora Tannetti (Biel). In "Killing an Arab," the killer is an unnamed man, but presumably he's Meursault, the narrator of The Stranger, not Robert Smith, the leader of the Cure.
3. In "Killing an Arab," the victim is an Arab man. In The Sinner, he's a white man named Frankie. Not even the members of the Cure think "Killing an Arab" is provocative in a good way anymore and Smith has changed the lyrics to "Killing Another" in post-9/11 performances. The Sinner's pilot doesn't touch anything racially problematic.
4. The murder in "Killing an Arab" happens at the sea. In The Sinner, it's at a lake.
5. "Killing an Arab" is set in Algeria. The Sinner is set in the considerably less exotic locale of Ulster County, New York.
6. In The Sinner, the murder is with a knife. In "Killing an Arab," it's with a gun.
7. In "Killing an Arab," the narrator is a stranger. "I'm a stranger, killing an Arab," he says. Cora Tannetti is not a stranger. She works for her father-in-law's HVAC company. They both feel alienated from their own lives, though.
8. In "Killing an Arab," the narrator can hear no sound. In The Sinner, the only motivation Cora gives (so far) is that "they were playing that music and they kept turning it up," so she can hear sound. This actually makes her very similar The Stranger's Meursault, though, who committed murder because he was hot and the sun was too bright.
10. In "Killing an Arab," there's no reason why. In The Sinner, there's going to be a why, we just haven't gotten there yet.
The only substantial difference between "Killing an Arab" and The Sinner is that The Sinner has a subplot about Bill Pullman getting sexually humiliated, while "Killing an Arab" has no subplots, and certainly none about Bill Pullman.
Which is better? Well, "Killing an Arab" has a great bassline, but The Sinner has an excellent performance from Christopher Abbott as Cora's bewildered husband. So it's a toss-up.
The Sinner airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on USA.