The tone of the show is wobbly, and you may get the feeling you’ve seen some of this stuff before, but Claws — a new drama premiering Sunday night on TNT — is definitely loud and clear on one matter: Niecy Nash is a star. Nash, who came to prominence in the Comedy Central show Reno 911! and recently co-starred in Scream Queens, has always been a superb ensemble player, deft at reacting amusingly to her co-stars’ dumb behavior. Claws puts her front and center as the owner of a Florida nail salon.
Nash plays Desna, a loud, flashy woman whose surface brassiness does not obscure the canny intelligence beneath all the flash. She presides over a motley group of nail buffers who include Carrie Preston of The Good Wife and Fight, and Judy Reyes of Scrubs. Desna is doing some illicit business on the side for a vicious crime boss called Uncle Daddy, played by Dean Norris of Breaking Bad.
The first episode of Claws takes its time, letting you get to know Desna, the clientele of her strip-mall salon, and the backgrounds of her colleagues. Preston’s Polly, for example, is fresh out of jail, obliged to perform public service, and hopes to keep her job at Desna’s shop. Desna has her own worries. She’s trying to make enough money to attain a better life for herself and her mentally troubled brother, Dean, played by Lost’s Harold Perrineau. We know as soon as we see the mean, moody Uncle Daddy that no good can come of Desna’s business dealings with him, but it’s not until the very end of the opening hour that some violent action occurs that sets some suspense in motion.
The biggest flaw with Claws is that the show doesn’t seem to think we’re as smart as we are — it emphasizes and repeats every plot twist we see coming a mile away, and there’s almost too much character building: We get it, Polly may seem like the uncool white girl who doesn’t fit in with her black co-workers, but they’re all actually good friends. And: we get it, Uncle Daddy is a sadist with a wide smile, but did Dean Norris have to be encouraged to perform with such exaggeration?
I liked Claws’s sun-baked Florida setting and the way the cameras capture the difference between the inside warmth of the nail salon versus the harsh ugliness of storefront life outside. And Nash is excellent, rendering Desna in all her tough, vulnerable, shrewd complexity. The writing of the show needs to become as complex as that character.
Claws airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on TNT.
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