In TNT’s Claws, Niecy Nash Leads the Manicure Mafia

At forty-seven, Niecy Nash is an anomaly. Black. Full-figured. Talented. And consistently working in Hollywood. From hosting duties on Clean House to her zany Deputy Raineesha Williams on Reno 911 or the countless other roles on her lengthy resume you know that she can deliver a lethal quip or kind word with perfect timing. Her career trajectory is rare if not unheard of, especially for a black woman.

In her nearly twenty-five year career she has taken bit parts and stolen shows. She slowly carved a reputation for bringing the funny with a side of compassion. This served her well  on Scream Queens, The Soul Man and Getting On. On Masters of Sex, she pushed hers comedic talents aside to focus on a more measured role as an AA sponsor to none other than Michael Sheen. With the lead on Claws, Nash is perfectly poised to develop a layered performance as Desna, the boss of the Manicure Mafia.

Created by Eliot Laurence and executive produced by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack,  Claws is the perfect companion for TNT’s edgy, nuanced and women led shows,  Animal Kingdom (2016 -) and Good Behavior (2016 -). Equal parts Ray Donovan and Hustle and Flow,  it delves into the dicey world of prescription drugs and the dangerous figures that inhabit that world. When we meet Desna (Niecey Nash) she has a small nail shop in a strip mall in Palmetta, Florida. On the face of it she is a small business owner living the American Dream. But as the story unfolds, we see that she is on the precipice of disaster. The life force for all those around her, she is bold and warm in dress, words and deeds. Like her nail art, she is not afraid of being seen or heard!

She is care-taker to her brother Dean (Harold Perrineau), who appears to be on the autism spectrum. He is high-functioning but prone to tantrums or rages. Then there is her clique, her crew, the Claws if you will. This is her family. Jen (Jen Lyon), the right-hand woman is a tattooed, mother of two with two baby daddies; quiet Ann (Judy Reyes) the enforcer and driver is a salsa singing lesbian who dons a suit better than most; the recently released Polly (Carrie Preston) doesn’t want to talk about her ankle bracelet or her past but you know there is a complicated story waiting to be told; then there is the young-in Virginia (Karrueche Tran) the ex-stripper looking for a come-up and a place to call home; she is expected to challenge Desna so the question is, how will Desna show her love.

The nail shop is Desna’s foster home of sorts, she protects it and them with all she has. So it is not surprising that she has become a money launderer for Uncle Daddy (Dean Norris) and his dense and full of himself nephew, Roller (Jack Kesy). The pilot’s flaw is its inability to provide realistic motivation for Desna’s actions beyond this point. Sure, it is clear that she is under quite a bit of stress and lacks support, but this is not a woman who would have taken the risks she had for a mere twenty thousand dollar pay-off. That is not enough for this woman to swallow her pride. To accept Roller’s outbursts and disrespect. The relationship is not presented as one of love. It is one of convenience. It is clear that Desna has to be careful, moving forward with her manicure mafia for she has not only Uncle Daddy to worry about…

Less Beauty Shop or Steel Magnolias, Claws is Sons of Anarchy, instead an outlaw bike clubs it explores South Florida’s oxycotin pill mill. This dark dramedy unearths the story behind the criminal or criminal adjacent lives these women lead. There is much to enjoy here. The performances. Florida, though its shot in New Orleans. The nail art. The on-the-mark comedic scenes that play more like improvisation than scripted dialogue, just see the Virginia confrontation.

Like a perfect Fall manicure, this show is glossy and dark with just enough warmth and humor to hold my attention… But its poster leaves a lot to be desired. The producers and PR team shied away from the premise of the show. Nash isn’t featured nor is the magnificent cast. For a network that has successfully championed women led shows, it was disappointing to see them miss the mark on this. Here’s hoping showrunner Janine Sherman Barrois keeps a firm handle on this story so that it develops nuance and grit without becoming trite and  cli·ché.

 

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