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Claws - Tirana - Review

When I first heard about “Claws” – described as being set in a nail salon, starring Niecy Nash (“Scream Queens”), and produced by Rashida Jones (“Angie Tribeca”) – I erroneously thought it would be a sassy workplace comedy. But while “Claws” definitely has comedic touches, it quickly becomes clear watching the pilot episode – “Tirana” – that it’s more in-line with recent TNT shows like “Animal Kingdom” and “Good Behavior,” with complicated people doing what they have to do to get ahead or survive.

It’s the dawn of a new year, but Desna (Nash) has the same old problems. She runs Nail Artisans of Manatee County, a nail salon in a South Florida strip mall. But she has big dreams of buying a more upscale place, which would help her better provide for her brother Dean (Harold Perrineau, “Lost”), who’s on the spectrum. To that end, she has gotten herself involved in money laundering, helping her lover Roller (Jack Kesy, “The Strain”) clean cash from a shady medical clinic at the other end of the strip mall for the Dixie Mafia. The idea was to work in it for a year, make enough money to buy her chichi salon, and get out.

But as Desna tells one of her nail clients, there’s “nothing in this world quite as useless as a useless man,” and Roller is the epitome of useless. While he rakes in the spoils of their scheme from their boss, Uncle Daddy (Dean Norris, “Breaking Bad”), he refuses to speak up for Desna when she gets shorted. As a further sign of disrespect, he begins an affair with Virginia (newcomer Karrueche Tran), a newbie at the salon who has felt slighted by Desna. Over the course of the hour, Roller keeps metaphorically squeezing Desna’s neck (like he requests be done to him while sexing up both ladies. Cable TV, y’all!), trying to get her to heel. A fed-up Desna, though, “finally [gets] it” and tries to kill him. But when he gets the upper hand, it’s Virginia who fires the fatal shot. It’s a bit reminiscent of early “Breaking Bad,” with a smaller crime scheme escalating into a bigger one.

It’s a good thing her crew at the salon has her back. There’s the newly returned Polly (Carrie Preston, “True Blood”), who we slowly learn throughout the hour was in prison for identity theft, and who seems adept at slipping on different personas as armor. There’s Jennifer (Jenn Lyon, “Justified”), a boisterous blonde who’s raising two daughters with Roller’s brother Bryce (Kevin Rankin, “Friday Night Lights”). And there’s Quiet Ann (Judy Reyes, “Scrubs”), a woman of few words, but who has a talented tongue when it comes to the ladies.

What really works about the show for me so far is the chemistry between the women, as they already feel believable as longtime friends. From their joy when Polly surprises them at the New Year’s Eve party (her bouncing into the strip club wearing that old-timey gown was hilarious), to their fury when they confront Virginia as a unit (them all breaking into hysterical laughter when Virginia claims Roller loves her was also a scream), the best moments of the pilot were when they were interacting with each other.

I’m less sold on other parts of it, the main one being Uncle Daddy. Norris is an actor I’ve always liked, but Uncle Daddy is a quirk machine – he’s a violent mobster, he’s a creature of campy excess, he keeps a boy toy in bondage gear around, he carves wooden figures for fun, etc., etc. It’s too much, too fast. One touch I do like, though, is that Desna is the only person we see who calls him by his actual name.

The pilot is also somewhat repetitive, with the rinse, repeat of Desna trying to get Roller to take her concerns seriously, and drags in some sections (the dialogue-free dance montage when Desna hands out bonuses to the girls goes on fooorrrever). But I’m curious to see how the various elements coalesce as we get deeper into the season.

Those are my thoughts on “Tirana.” You can bare your claws about the pilot episode of "Claws" in the comments section.

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