Perhaps you’ve been waiting for a mash-up of “Steel Magnolias” and “Breaking Bad.” TNT apparently thinks so, because it’s giving you one: “Claws,” a nail salon thriller that begins its 10-episode first season on Sunday. Sassy nail artisans dispense silk wraps while laundering money for a pill mill controlled by a gaudily bisexual gangster named Uncle Daddy. Something for everyone!
Like a strip-mall manicurist, “Claws” lays it on thick. An opening montage sets the scene — palm trees, strip club, flamingos, phallic motorboat — and the opening episodes (three were available for review) flesh out the clichés of Florida life as a down-market stew of sex, drugs and violent crime. Uncle Daddy (Dean Norris of “Breaking Bad”) not only celebrates New Year’s Eve with a boy toy in a leather thong and virtual-reality goggles, he also beats down the strip club manager because the Apalachicola oysters in the V.I.P. area have turned.
The show was originally developed as a half-hour comedy for HBO, one that presumably would have focused more strictly on the nail salon crew, a diverse bunch — reminiscent of “Orange Is the New Black” or “The View,” take your pick — led by Niecy Nash’s Desna. The first episode introduces them: Desna, the tough-talking, tenderhearted boss; Virginia (Karreuche Tran), the insolent newcomer (and butt of Asian-slut jokes); Polly (Carrie Preston), the once-young Republican just out of jail for identity theft; Quiet Ann (Judy Reyes), the lesbian enforcer. In one of the show’s casually over-the-top touches, Quiet Ann likes to stand watch outside the salon holding a baseball bat.
A lot of whooping, dancing, salon station gossip and other forced scenes of female bonding are called for, and as talented and engaging as the performers are — particularly Ms. Nash and Ms. Preston — they can’t break out of sitcom artificiality. So it’s a relief when the Jekyll-and-Hyde story swings toward its dark-crime-drama side.
Desna, who’s been brought into the money-laundering game by her boyfriend, Roller (Jack Kesy), is tiring of both his empty promises of profit-sharing and his open philandering. Bad things happen, and in a wise choice by the producers, they happen before the end of the first episode.
The show gets more interesting at that point, but it’s still caught somewhere on the road from feminist buddy comedy to bloody drama — and it’s not quite credible as either. Created by Eliot Laurence (“The Big Gay Sketch Show”), who wrote the first two episodes, and run by the executive producer Janine Sherman Barrois (“Criminal Minds,” “E.R.”), it doesn’t yet feel comfortable in its own skin. Every scene seems to be played with one eye on the audience.
Perhaps because they’re not entirely sure what else they’ve got, the writers and producers noticeably push the boundaries of basic-cable sex and raunch. Unusual amounts of skin are exposed, in unusually direct ways. Propositions are blunt, sex acts are graphic and the discussion and depiction of toilet use are forthright. Consider that a warning or an invitation.
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