‘The Sinner’ was enough to lure Bill Pullman to TV series

Rick's Reviews

Bill Pullman stars in the USA Network series “The Sinner.” (Photo courtesy of USA Network)

The fourth season of the USA Network police procedural anthology series launches with Bill Pullman returning to the role of troubled police detective Harry Ambrose. His character has been the only constant through the seasons with the characters at the center of the major crime changing each year.

Season four starts with a now-retired Ambrose and his partner, Sonya, traveling to Hanover Island in northern Maine. Ambrose is looking for an escape following the trauma of his last case a year ago.

His escape plans fall apart when an unexpected tragedy occurs involving the daughter of a prominent island family. Ambrose is recruited to help the investigation, only to be thrown into a mystery of mounting paranoia that turns the sleepy tourist island upside down.

Pullman says, “The idea of being retired sounds very nice, but as Harry discovers, you don’t just start fresh. You carry over. And in the previous year he had this encounter and it was a complicated ending to that he felt very conflicted about.

“And so, season four kicks off, he’s bolted from his therapist, he’s off his meds, and he can’t sleep. Welcome to retirement.”

Original plans for “The Sinner” was for it to be an eight-part miniseries. But, when it debuted in 2017, the ratings were so good for the Golden Globe-nominated limited series, it was turned into an anthology series.

In the first season, Ambrose looked into the past of Cora Tannetti (Jessica Biel) to determine why she stabbed a man to death. In the second season, Ambrose looked into the death of a couple who were poisoned by a young boy. The third season centered on an investigation into a fatal car accident.

“The Sinner” is the creation of Derek Simonds (“The Astronaut Wives Club”) based on the 1999 novel of the same name by Petra Hammesfahr. Simonds has tried to make each season come across as different while using Pullman’s character as the continuing thread.

 “The main thing that guides our ideas for every season is really Ambrose’s meta-arc over the seasons. That’s always been kind of the thing that’s guided me creatively,” Simonds says. “After Season 1, I wanted to see Ambrose confront his childhood. After Season 2, I wanted Ambrose to confront a man who was not an innocent.

“After Season 3, I wanted to see him contend with guilt. And, the guilt that he’s kind of accrued over his whole life. What one does with that? I think a lot of this season is about collective guilt. What we do with collective guilt. Who’s responsible when there’s more than one person who is responsible for a wrongdoing or a crime?”

Pullman generally stars in feature films such as “Ruthless People,” “Spaceballs,” “Casper,” “LBJ,” “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Independence Day.” He could not pass up the opportunity to play a character who is wrestling with what it is to be human and discovers that the truth is not something that’s easily accessible.

He describes the life Ambrose is living as someone who has everything stacked against him. The fact Ambrose faces this with a very quiet demeanor was additionally intriguing to Pullman.

“A lot of people think I don’t say very much in the series. And I’m, of course, looking at the lines I do say and had to learn, and I feel like I’m talking all the time. But there’s something about the confidence,” Pullman says. “I think all the other actors in this season know this trust that you get, that your behavior is important. So, it’s the editing that you see.

“When you see the show, it’s not always just who is talking. It takes a certain courage to not do that, to trust that what isn’t being said is as interesting as what is said. And we, all of us, get that message pretty loud and clear from Derek when we’re going through each script line by line.”

The season was filmed under the tight protocols created by the pandemic. That proved to be a small blessing because the cast could concentrate on the stories with no outside distractions. There were no such protocols when seasons one through three were being produced.

Pullman adds, “Derek encouraged it. Derek joined in. We would come up with our list of questions. We’d go back and forth, so that you knew that the immediacy of the moment was the premise. What was number one was to really feel alive and awake to the situation of what isn’t being said as well as what’s being said.”

Sharing in those acting duties are the other cast members of “The Sinner” that also includes Frances Fisher, Alice Kremelberg, Neal Huff, Cindy Cheung, Ronin Wong with Jessica Hecht and Michael Mosley.

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