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Jeff Simon: 'The Sinner' does a world of good for summer TV

You knew — ever so subtly — she had problems right at the beginning of "The Sinner."

When Cora and her husband were driving home for dinner after work, they talked about how much they both owed his mother for watching their little boy all day. He then said he wanted more family dinners with mom. "You're such a Mama's Boy" she said, half-kiddingly. He didn't like the phrase, he said, not kidding at all.

She wasn't all that fond of marital sex that night, either. In the middle of it, the ceiling camera caught the expression of bored impatience on her face that her husband was otherwise too occupied to have noticed.

The next morning, she was up hours before him cleaning the kitchen cupboards. A sure sign of trouble if ever there was one.

It's the weekend, though. So why don't they all go to the beach?

She wanted to go into the water. Would he watch their son for a few minutes? Of course. While he did, though, the boy got cranky and his father's inability to soothe a baby became all too apparent. In fact, Dad observed that "he's gotta toughen up."

She swam way beyond the beach rope barrier into that part of the lake where no lifeguard was watching. She ducked under the water. From the look on her face, you couldn't be sure she wasn't committing suicide.

But no, she came back out to husband and fretting son. An athletic young couple in skimpy swimsuits began getting ever-more frisky on the towel in front of them. They cranked up the music on their radio to get deeper into the mood.

Whereupon Cora started shrieking at the male half of the couple. She ran to their blanket and, in seconds, stabbed him seven times with the knife she was using to slice fruit for her son.

The guy was instantly gone. And a whole beach full of weekenders on the water was dumbfounded at what just happened.

That's merely the premise of "The Sinner" on the USA Network. It is very good summertime TV. But then, there's a lot of that going around along with the garbage.

The wretchedness and rubbish are certainly well-represented. CBS' "Salvation" postulates the earth about to explode because it didn't keep out of the way of a rogue asteroid with earth's name on it. Meanwhile, Washingtonians who were secretly in the know about doomsday still had the time to nuzzle and neck in their offices and to keep secrets from each other.

On "Midnight, Texas," a town full of misfits is proud of being misfits together. But all their mutual support is for those among them who are psychics communing with the dead or psychokinetic prodigies and who knows what else. It's a community of spiritualists whose civic spirit and gift for tolerance never gets a chance to warm the cockles of your heart because their own cockles are constantly being disturbed by unannounced visits from the dead, waiting to make trouble.

I've become ever more wary of zombies overrunning entertainment in 2017. There comes a point where you have to admit that any fantasy about zombies had better be very good because otherwise you'd better be ready to send them all back to caves full of rot and ruin where they belong. (A good rule of thumb for all the dead who are "tempest-tossed" and ready to find a home on America's teeming shore is that everybody may be far happier to see them if they were still alive. Acceptance of others quirks stops after they've been pronounced dead and their decaying bodies have given ample olfactory evidence to prove it.)

That's why "The Sinner" is going to be very welcome Wednesday television for the next seven weeks.

It's about a bloody and thoroughly unfathomable crime in broad daylight which can't possibly be as off-the-wall and inexplicable as it seems. Cora is played by Jessica Biel, who has given up expensive shampoo and conditioner and expert makeup to go for serious acting in front of a camera — especially when storms of tears are involved.

To be blunt, I wasn't sure Biel had all the dramatic wherewithal, but she's good in "The Sinner" — good enough to make the show a kind of distant cable TV relative of HBO's "Big Little Lies" without all the money and paradisaical Pacific seascapes.

In the first episode, we were shown flashbacks to Cora's childhood with a creepy father and a psycho mother who cradles a dead baby and blames her other daughter for the baby's death.

"The Sinner" is a canny, sun-drenched gothic. Biel's co-star in it is the supremely shaggy actor Bill Pullman, as a cop with a dominatrix mistress and enough compassion to know that motiveless craziness can't possibly be the whole story. So he spends the series investigating why an ordinary wife and mother suddenly stabs a guy to death on the beach and blames his radio for being too loud.

Present Ray Donovan with a problem like that and he would know exactly what to do. My favorite Hollywood fixer returns to Showtime at 9 p.m. Sunday.

I'm not always mad for the internecine problems inside the extended Donovan clan, but whenever Ray has to deal with the ugly vagaries of privileged life among the Hollywood elite, I'm there.

Why? Easy. It's the terrific cast. Any show that keeps Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight as relatives at each other's throats is worth keeping around.

Especially when, for this season, they decided to add Susan Sarandon to the mix.

Good move, that — a really good move.

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