The claws in TNT’s “Claws” may be out, but that’s not all. They’re spangled, glittered and polished.
Because, of course, there are no animals in “Claws.”
There is, however, no shortage of wild behavior in this new hourlong drama about five manicurists working in a South Florida nail salon. There’s no girl-fight action like the title suggests — the manicurists all get along, and “claws” refers to their over-the-top custom designs that transform fingers and toes into miniature objets d’art.
Eliot Laurence, the show’s creator and co-executive producer, says he has long been fascinated with the culture of nail salons and the interactions between the artists and their clients. “Nail art can be so outrageous,” he said. “It’s not practical, but it’s wild. We were looking for ways to reflect the narrative of the show with nails.”
The series stars Niecy Nash (“Reno 911”) as Desna, the owner of the Nail Artisans of Manatee County. Desna lives life to the fullest, both with her colleagues and with her smooth-talking, heavily-tattooed lover, Roller (Jack Kesy), who feels perfectly comfortable dropping into the salon during business hours for a steamy tryst with Desna.
But Desna also has her share of worries. She lives with and cares for her mentally ill brother, Dean (Harold Perrineau of “Lost”). Her employees include mild-mannered Polly (Carrie Preston), who recently served time in prison for identity theft, and young Virginia (Karrueche Tran) who is openly bored with her job.
Worst of all, Roller is running a barely legal pain clinic and is using Desna’s business to launder the facility’s huge profits. Desna wants to get out of the arrangement, but Roller will not let her. The conflict leads to mayhem, violence and murder.
Executive producer Janine Sherman Barrois (“Criminal Minds”) calls “Claws” a roller-coaster ride that glides between drama and rowdy comedy. She labels it “Florida noir,” the crime genre popularized by Carl Hiaasen (“Bad Monkey”) and Jeff Lindsay, author of the “Dexter” novels.” (The series is shot mostly in New Orleans because of financial incentives.).
“To be able to do a drama and have humor in it is very, very refreshing,” Barrois said in a telephone interview. “Normally you have all these bad things happening in the nighttime, and in darkness, but with a Florida noir show, you can have things happen in the light and under the bright sun, which is absurd.”
“Craziness happens in Florida,” she added, “and this show is kind of a homage to the crazy that is there.” Boosting the humor aspect even further are executive producers Rashida Jones (“Angle Tribeca”) and Will McCormack (“Toy Story 4”).
Laurence, who wrote the 2014 comedy-drama “Welcome to Me” starring Kristen Wiig as a mentally unbalanced woman who goes off her medication, wins the lottery and buys her own talk show, said he wanted “Claws” to have a similarly shifting feel.
“I like tones where you don’t know what to feel, where things are darkly funny and strange,” he said.
In the grand tradition of “Steel Magnolias,” “Claws” turns the beauty shop into a hub of female support and empowerment.
Women sticking together and not looking for the permission of men is so vital right now.”
“Women sticking together and not looking for the permission of men is so vital right now,” Barrois said, adding that these women all want a piece of the American pie. “They want money, they want sex, they want career and they are unapologetic about it. “
Nash is particularly excited about “Claws,” which is her first leading role. Although invariably picked out for her strong performance in series such as “Getting On,” “Masters of Sex” and “Scream Queens,” she has been primarily a featured member of an ensemble cast.
“This is so delicious,” Nash said in a phone interview during a break from filming. “Most of the cast are women of a certain age. I love the fact we are so vibrant and full and complex. And as Desna, I get to play sinister, which I’ve never played before.”
With a background in comedy, Nash is also grateful for the chance to show her range.
“I feel like I got to the party late when it comes to a dramatic role,” she said. “It’s a blessing to get a part like Desna, and I cannot wait for the public to meet her!”