The week in TV: Insomnia; Cold Case Investigators: Solving Britain’s Sex Crimes; Rebus; Trying; The Nevermets – review

<span>‘Initially it’s rather absorbing’: Vicky McClure in Insomnia.</span><span>Photograph: Nyree Riding/Paramount+</span>
‘Initially it’s rather absorbing’: Vicky McClure in Insomnia.Photograph: Nyree Riding/Paramount+

Insomnia (Paramount+)
Cold Case Investigators: Solving Britain’s Sex Crimes (BBC Two) | iPlayer
Rebus (BBC One) | iPlayer
Trying (Apple TV+)
The Nevermets (Channel 4) |

Don’t judge me, but sometimes I have a yen for a twisty, moreish, mildly preposterous thriller. You know the kind of thing: moody atmospheres; reeking red herrings; tense supping of wine; characters living in implausibly grand houses painted in “school fees teal” or whatever the hue du jour is. Throw in an unravelling central heroine and I’m all set.

Paramount+’s new six-part thriller Insomnia, starring Vicky McClure, seems to fit the bill. It’s adapted by Sarah Pinborough from her own novel; she is also the author-creator of Netflix’s 2021 Behind Her Eyes, which some may recall for its out-there, rug-pulling (in short: absurd) denouement.

Thus I approach Insomnia warily (once bitten!), but initially it’s rather absorbing. McClure plays rising lawyer Emma (all glossy hair and luxe blouses), a mother of two approaching her 40th birthday who is plagued by sleeplessness. After years of pretending her psychiatric unit-bound mother (Corinna Marlowe) is dead, Emma is then accused of her murder. Like her mum (“bad blood”), she becomes disturbed, trailing around at night, babbling numbers, lighting candles, wading into what appears to be a private pond, standing over her sleeping son with a pillow.

At the end of Insomnia, there are enough hanging threads to stuff a scatter cushion

In the mix there’s Emma’s husband, Robert (Tom Cullen), her sister, Phoebe (Leanne Best), new acquaintance Caroline (Lyndsey Marshal) and some hyperactive side plots. Don’t come here for subtlety, or for nuanced mental health themes. Still, the sisters’ fraught, cryptic relationship is well captured, and the childhood flashbacks to them struggling with their mother hum with sickly menace (Marlowe is terrifying).

Alas, peeking ahead, Insomnia becomes progressively overheated, convoluted and silly. What should be a rich insomnia theme – the debilitation and psychosis of it – feels woefully underexplored. (In Christopher Nolan’s 2002 film of the same name, at least Al Pacino looks as if he could do with a good kip.) Is Pinborough’s Insomnia a thriller? A supernaturalish horror? It can’t seem to make up its mind. At the end, there are enough hanging threads to stuff a scatter cushion.

The two-part BBC Two docuseries Cold Case Investigators: Solving Britain’s Sex Crimes is true crime on a mission. Since 2016, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire’s major crime unit has been using modern forensics to look into unsolved rapes and sexual assaults, some going back half a century, and getting offenders convicted.

The cases are harrowing and the long-term effect on survivors heartbreaking. In 2002, two teenage girls were sexually assaulted (in 2004, another girl managed to escape, and she is interviewed as an adult here). A young woman was raped by a cab driver in Luton in 1993. A male teenager was raped in 1983. Interviewed now, he haltingly refers to it as “the event”.

The reputation of police in England and Wales is currently at an all-time low, and there are widespread investigations into sexual assault and domestic violence by officers. By contrast, this cold case team, many of them women, come across as dedicated and dogged (“Every contact leaves a trace”). The guilty parties are palpably shocked to be confronted with historical DNA evidence.

What emerges is a compelling study of modern policing and science excavating the past. We watch as one forensics expert works at a smeary old slide until it divulges its secrets: an all-important DNA archipelago of smudges, spots and specks. Fascinating.

The new Rebus is two episodes in and scrubbing up nicely. Ian Rankin’s acerbic detective was previously portrayed by John Hannah and Ken Stott on ITV. Reimagined for BBC One by Gregory Burke (the Scottish playwright responsible for Black Watch), he’s played by Richard Rankin (hush your nepo-klaxon, he’s no relation) as a young Rebus transplanted to modern-day Edinburgh.

The essentials of Rebus haven’t been airbrushed out of existence. Here is a bruised, compromised man, complete with stubble, dry-as-dust cynical humour and a penchant for the wind-up. Working alongside fast-tracked graduate Siobhan (Lucie Shorthouse), Rebus wonders what her nickname should be. “I hate Shiv,” she says. “I’ll call you Shiv then.”

A fond but damaged father trying to keep off alcohol, Rebus is bruised but philosophical about his ex’s new relationship (“They’re better off with him than they are with me”). Alongside navigating a vicious criminal underworld (drugs, gangs, amputated fingers), he has family issues with his brother, played by Brian Ferguson (“He thinks he’s better than everybody else”). Soon enough, everything from affairs to army vets start whirling into a grim, grainy narrative squall. It’s early days but, so far, it’s prickly and exciting.

On Apple TV+, Andy Wolton’s fertility/adoption UK dramedy Trying returns for a fourth eight-part series. It stars Rafe Spall and Esther Smith as couple Jason and Nikki (Spall and Smith are now together and having a baby in real life), with their adoptive children Princess and Tyler (Scarlett Rayner and Cooper Turner). Leaping forward six years, the new series opens with a funeral (and much teasing about who’s dead), then segues into Princess’s search for her birth mother.

These family comedy sagas (Outnumbered, Breeders) tread a perilously fine line. Too dark (as Breeders was initially) and it’s jarring; too sugary and it’s nauseating. For my taste, Trying meanders too often into the saccharine zone, but it also has heart, charm and a cracking ensemble: Phil Davis, Siân Brooke, Paul Kaye and more. Watch out for Jim Broadbent’s turn as an internet dating hottie.

Talking of which, Channel 4’s new six-part series The Nevermets is about British people meeting their online international loves for the first time in real life. My initial thought: what could possibly go right?

The Nevermets turns out to be less exploitative than deeply odd. Student Jay (only 17) first encountered 26-year-old Veena in a Game of Thrones fantasy role-play group. When he travels to India to meet her, her family expect instant wedding bells. A woman called Sarah schleps across continents to meet her frisky Filipino beau. And so on. It’s all very stressful and awkward, but maybe that’s the point? These are 21st-century love stories that only truly begin when pixels turn into flesh.

Star ratings (out of five)
Cold Case Investigators: Solving Britain’s Sex Crimes ★★★★
Rebus ★★★★
Trying ★★★
The Nevermets ★★★

What else I’m watching

Imposter: The Man Who Came Back from the Dead
(Channel 4)
Startling true-crime docuseries about “Arthur Knight”. Discovered in a Glasgow hospital in 2021 claiming memory loss, he is later identified as one of America’s most wanted fugitives.

Buying London
High-end estate agents hawk mega-pricey homes in London’s most salubrious postcodes while exuding glamour and shade. If you were yearning for the British Selling Sunset, here it is.

(Amazon Prime Video)
In-depth, fully charged docuseries about the year Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United were on course to win the Premier League, the FA Cup and the Champions League. Interviewees include Ferguson, David Beckham and Gary Neville.