“Des” opens with contemporary news footage from 1983 with Margaret Thatcher talking about how she’s Thatchering people and then something about an influx of young men to London who find it’s not what they thought.
This opening is going to have nothing to do with the story. It’s not even a good stylistic match for the narrative style of the show.
“Des” is about serial killer Dennis Nilsen, based on a book by Brian Masters; the opening titles gives the title of the book and the whole “at the request of the survivors… out of respect for the dead…” bit. Obviously not the Fargo bit but you know. The true story crap.
It’s important to pay attention because otherwise when Jason Watkins shows up towards the end of the episode and is fascinated with the case, it initially played to me like he knew the serial killer, played by David Tennant. Mostly because I didn’t pay attention to the name of the book author in the opening titles.
The show centers around Droopy Dog sad copper Daniel Mays, who’s having a hard time with his fake subplot about his divorce and sons. He gets a nuisance call about bones in a sewer drain; the caller thinks they’re human, Mays thinks they’re chicken bones.
They’re human and the suspect is Tennant. He’s only technically a suspect because he immediately confesses upon encountering the police, though it’d be hard not to confess since his apartment’s filled with cut up dead bodies. Except there are only three in the apartment, he’s killed at least fifteen.
Only Tennant doesn’t remember any details for identifying his victims, he didn’t get their names, so the cops aren’t sure he’s really a serial killer or something. Well, Mays is sure, but he’s not very authoritative as he mopes. His boss, an effective with nothing to do Ron Cook, tells him to tread carefully.
As a procedural, a lot of it is good. Tennant’s pretty good in a “cast against type” part. He’s closer to fascinating than not, which is good. Unfortunately, Mays and Watkins are both blah.
Luke Neal’s script manages to be simultaneously well-paced and draggy. Lewis Arnold’s direction is fine. It’s okay, good for the Tennant. Mays and Watkins need to get better fast for it to be anything more.