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‘Claws’ review: TNT comedy with Niecy Nash doesn’t work

The comedy-drama "Claws" takes place at a Florida nail salon that conceals a money-laundering operation. It debuts June 11 on TNT. (Credit: TNT)

THE SERIES “Claws”

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on TNT

GRADE C-

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Desna (Niecy Nash) runs a nail salon in Manatee County, Florida, where she and her girls — Jen (Jenn Lyon), Polly (Carrie Preston), Quiet Ann (Judy Reyes) and Virginia (Karrueche Tran) — paint “hooves” and dream of a big score.

In pursuit of that, Desna got caught up with the Dixie Mafia and the local wiseguys, including current boyfriend Roller (Jack Kesy) and his boss, Uncle Daddy (Dean Norris, “Breaking Bad,” “Under the Dome”).

She has helped them run a money-laundering scheme through a health clinic. She wants her money, and she wants out, in part so she can open another salon and help her autistic adult brother (played by Harold Perrineau of “Lost”). Uncle Daddy, however, wants more.

MY SAY “Claws” is all about grrl power but not the “Wonder Woman” sort. It’s the grounded, non-superpower variety, and it’s also grounded in South Florida, where the blues are dazzling, the pinks predominate and the bad guys traffic in drugs, porn and any other type of depravity that occurs to them. Desna’s a good woman with a good heart who just happened to get caught in the orbit of one of them. He cheats her, abuses her, even beats her. A grrl’s gotta do what a grrl’s gotta do. Big Daddy doesn’t have a clue what he’s up against. Roller’s about to find out.

There’s more to “Claws” than that, but not much. It’s “Thelma and Louise” without any character named “Thelma” or “Louise.” Desna runs her own like-minded crew, and they’re watching each other’s back, Desna’s in particular. They work hard, party hard and live hard. At the end of the day (and well into the night, it appears), they just want respect and a little bit of loving from a good man — who, naturally, is hard to find. Or, as Desna pragmatically observes, “There’s nothing as useless in this world as a useless man.”

Yet, despite this setting and these tropes and especially despite Nash and the rest of the good supporting cast, “Claws” doesn’t work. The brush strokes are way too broad, the tone too slapdash. Humor backs its way into the show almost by accident, and pathos, too. “Claws” is about reversing expectations or demolishing them, so that’s not altogether surprising. But that doesn’t make the burden of watching — and this does turn into a burden — any easier.

There’s a good idea here, abetted by that cast and those intriguing characters. “Claws” needs to slow down, take a deep breath and figure out where it wants to go with them. So far, that would appear to be Nowheresville.

BOTTOM LINE Good idea and better cast squandered on a slapdash premise, weak writing and South Florida cliches.

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