There’s a scene in the second episode of TNT’s Claws that sums up this wildly inventive, delightfully surprising show: a funeral unlike any you’ve ever seen.
This funeral features strippers dressed in black and twerking on the eulogy podium, along with a solemn reading from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography — but also a touchingly sincere song from an unexpected mourner. It’s that outlandish blend of comedy and drama, along with a top-notch cast and a colorfully vibrant filmmaking style, that makes Claws — debuting this Sunday at 9/8c — one of this summer’s most promising new shows.
Niecy Nash stars as Desna, the owner of a Florida nail salon that employs a cast of memorable eccentrics, including soft-spoken sweetheart Polly (Carrie Preston), who’s wearing an ankle bracelet after a stint in jail, and Quiet Ann (Judy Reyes), the salon’s silent enforcer. But Desna’s got a side hustle, too: laundering money from illegal pain-med prescriptions for her dealer boyfriend Roller (Jack Kesy), which gets her entangled in a dangerous world of guns, drugs and cold, hard cash.
The Florida setting is key: Claws has a vivid sense of place, set in the very gaudy, downright grimy part of the Sunshine State we never glimpsed on Miami Vice. (You can almost smell the sweat.) The tackiness is mesmerizing, with rundown strip malls and underground gator-wrestling, and the show teeters just on the edge of over-the-top, without toppling over. The result: an enormously entertaining mix of Breaking Bad and Orange Is the New Black, with a sprinkling of Spring Breakers and Elmore Leonard’s Florida crime novels for good measure.
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Of course, there’s a murder, and of course, it’s followed by a sloppy cover-up. But creator Eliot Laurence and showrunner Janine Sherman Barrois do a tremendous job of balancing the crime-drama and dark-comedy aspects here, sometimes even in the same scene. (At one point, two characters try to stash a dead body somewhere… only to find there’s another corpse there already.) Claws is densely packed with fascinating characters and vibrant dialogue — and the cast grabs that dialogue and sprints off with it.
I could gush all day about Preston and Reyes, and Jenn Lyon as Desna’s BFF Jennifer, and the crackling chemistry these four women have together. (I instantly cared about each of them, intently.) But I also need to mention Breaking Bad alum Dean Norris, who’s riotously funny and truly menacing playing a bisexual drug kingpin (!) named Uncle Daddy (!!) with a lazy Mississippi drawl and a lava-hot temper. Plus, I need to save some space to sing the praises of Niecy Nash, who finally gets the complex leading role she so richly deserves.
Nash has been making us laugh as a sassy supporting character for years now, from Reno 911! to Scream Queens, and she’s plenty funny here, too. But when things go south for Desna, Nash’s dramatic work is an absolute revelation, and she anchors this whole weird operation with a fierce elegance. A subplot about Desna’s disabled brother, played by Lost‘s Harold Perrineau, threatens to get a bit trite, but Nash’s sisterly affection for him makes it work. She’s flat-out fantastic.
And so is her new show, which is bursting with potential, based on the first three episodes. It’s perfect for summer, the TV equivalent of a fun beach read: a little sweet, a little salty… and impossible to put down.
THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: Stylishly filmed and obscenely funny, TNT’s Claws might be this summer’s hottest new show.