'Claws': TV Review

Courtesy of Tony Kelly/TNT
An acquired taste, but you may acquire it.
6/11/2017

Niecy Nash plays a Florida manicurist turned money launderer on TNT's outlandish new drama.

If you wanted to see a TV series adaptation of Harmony Korine's film Spring Breakers set in the world of nail salons, then TNT's Claws comes close.

Starring Niecy Nash — who is fantastic at keeping a lid on the chaos percolating around her — Claws feels a little like a drama that started out as a comedy about a bunch of eccentric women in Florida working at a nail salon — which is something that could work. But it appears there wasn't a lot of confidence in that idea, or perhaps a little too much confidence in expanding the concept to include storylines about money laundering and the Dixie Mafia — because pineapple pizza exists, and the world is open to anything if you sell it right.

Nash stars as Desna, proprietor of the Nail Artisan of Manatee County salon, which is not only a really long name for a strip-mall nail joint in central Florida, but also where Desna, on the side, launders money for Roller (Jack Kesy), her trashy boy-toy. Now, the audience is supposed buy that Nash's Desna would actually go for this thug — but even if the sex were that good, it gets harder to believe with each successive scene they share. But the point is, Desna is in business with Roller, who runs a transparently illegal "pain clinic" in the mall, where the shady Dr. Ken Brickman (Jason Antoon) prescribes pain meds to addicts for cash. Desna then launders that money with the help of her best friend and fellow nail stylist Jennifer (Jenn Lyon) and Quiet Ann (Judy Reyes), the lesbian "driver and muscle" for Desna's operation.

If Claws is sounding a little — fine, a lot — like it's being stuffed and stretched with quirk, well, it is. There's also Roller's uncle, Uncle Daddy (Dean Norris), in the mix. He's a man who enjoys cocaine, intimidation and carving wood for relaxation, all the while embodying the show's official description of him as "a larger than life, dangerous, deeply Catholic bisexual."

You have to give Claws' creator and writer Eliot Laurence a little credit for exploding the top off. Norris, best known as DEA agent Hank Schrader on Breaking Bad, has been given the green light to go at Uncle Daddy with gusto. And he does.

Tone is clearly an issue here, with Harold Perrineau added as Desna's autistic brother Dean; Carrie Preston as Polly, the meek Southern sweetie who just got out of jail for pulling identity theft scams on seniors; Karrueche Tran as the sexpot former stripper who joined Desna's nail salon while Polly was in prison; and Kevin Rankin as Bryce, Roller's older brother, who is married to Jennifer and helping raise her two kids from different daddies while both he and Jennifer attempt to stay sober.

That's a lot to balance, and the result tilts into showy, but bright and bold excess is what Claws appears to be going for, at least in the two episodes I watched (the second one ending with a lot of Uncle Daddy, which dented any interest I had in watching more, at least for the moment).

Entertainment via excess certainly has its place, but it's hard to know at this point whether Laurence, showrunner Janine Sherman Barrois and executive producers Rashida Jones, Will McCormack and Howard Deutch can commit to that kind of show. Meanwhile, Nash lends her A-game dramatic chops as a woman who not only dreams of upgrading her nail salon but her life, which in turn will make things easier for Dean (whose autism, as depicted here, demands Desna's constant attention).

But all around Desna is chaos and quirks, particularly in the form of Uncle Daddy. Nail salon dreaming here, Dixie Mafia madness there. It's like two shows were grafted together; it will take some time to adjust the doses, and we'll see if viewers stick around to find out if the final cocktail does the trick.

Cast: Niecy Nash, Dean Norris, Jenn Lyon, Judy Reyes, Jack Kesy, Carrie Preston, Harold Perrineau, Karrueche Tran, Kevin Rankin
Created and written by: Eliot Laurence
Directed by: Nicole Kassell (pilot)
Executive producers: Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Janine Sherman Barrois, Howard Deutch
Premieres: Sunday, 9 p.m. ET/PT (TNT)

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