June 12, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Claws”


CLAWS:  Sunday 9PM on TNT – If Nothing Else Is On…

There’s a reason that CLAWS,  TNT’s latest foray into original programming, feels like the offspring of a multi-camera sitcom, a paycable hour and Orange Is the New Black.  The project, created by Eliot Laurence, was originally developed as a HBO half-hour, and then taken over by TNT and revamped into a 1-hour drama with comic overtones, with Janine Sherman Barrois on board as showrunner.  The result has vitality to spare, but it needs a lot of work before it can be a coherent whole.

The setting is a nail salon in Florida, where all of the staff appear to be ex-cons and/or ex-sex workers, and their permanent setting is “over the top.”  The shop belongs to Desna (Niecy Nash), and her employees include frowsy Jennifer (Jenn Lyon), the aptly-named Quiet Ann (Judy Reyes), and troublesome newcomer Virginia (Karrueche Tran); the pilot begins with the relatively prim newly-released con Polly (Carrie Preston) returning to the shop.  Apart from their nail duties, the ladies assist Desna in her side job, laundering money for a nearby clinic that dispenses oxy for the Dixie Mafia.  They’re represented by Uncle Daddy (Dean Norris, doing a 180 from Breaking Bad), who somehow manages to be more flamboyant than the residents of the nail salon.  Desna is also involved in a highly-sexed relationship with Uncle Daddy’s nephew and subordinate Roller (Jack Kesy), a violent lummox who’s clearly nothing but trouble.  In case that weren’t enough, Desna has also been given an autistic brother, Dean (Harold Perrineau), who lives under her care.

Each of the pieces of this mix falls into a familiar TV form:  workplace comedy, downscale crime, makeshift family of struggling women.  The blend, though, requires more care than the pilot displays as it lurches from broad comedy to violence to “you go, girl” empowerment.  Pilot director Nicole Kassell has mostly worked in prestige TV over the past few years (The Leftovers, The Americans, Rectify, Vinyl, American Crime), which may be why the show feels more comfortable with establishing its colorful setting and delving into its serious moments than when exercising its comic legs.

What Claws does have going for it is its cast.  Nash has herself been whipsawing between genres lately, from the low key Getting On to the cartoonish Scream Queens, and she has the range to give the proceedings a center.  Some of us might wish that Preston were a regular on The Good Fight rather than here, but she brings pathos to her attempts to delude her colleagues about her post-prison situation.  Norris seems to be enjoying his chance to play this show’s version of The One Who Knocks, and Tran is an effective wild card in the cast’s deck of women.

Claws may be the kind of series that needs some time to find its tone, and a run against the soft competition of summer makes sense (although Sunday nights are the toughest night of the week even in summer).  The show may never find its way into the space that it’s trying to occupy, but it’s worth a few episodes to see if it can strike its target.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."