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The hard-working women of TNT’s ‘Claws’ rock killer nails and a tight bond

TNT's new series "Claws" pairs murder with killer nail designs. The show, which stars Karrueche Tran, Carrie Preston, Niecy Nash, Jenn Lyon and Judy Reyes, airs Sunday.
(TNT)
Television Critic

Walter White of “Breaking Bad” cooked meth. Pablo Escobar of “Narcos” dealt in “Cocaine.” But what does series TV do when pharmaceutical meds are the new drug of choice across America?

It conjures up the gang of misfits in TNT’s “Claws,” manicurists/money launderers who sport 6-inch acrylic heels, ample cleavage and hoop earrings so big, a small dog could jump through them.

But the last thing anyone should do is underestimate the women of Florida’s Nail Artisan of Manatee County salon.

For starters, they work in the same sad strip mall as the dicey pain-med clinic Suncoast Rejuvenation, and parking spots aren’t the only thing they share with the drug dispensary.

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Salon owner Desna (Niecy Nash) is “washing” money for the clinic, which is owned by Uncle Daddy Clay (Dean Norris). While she facilitates cash drops in between her silk wrap appointments, he runs things from his other questionable business, a strip club.

Desna’s dual jobs seem simple enough until someone ends up dead, and it’s not from an OxyContin overdose.

Sparkly nail salon culture, the low-life Floridian crime world and the close camaraderie of female friends is a winning combination for “Claws,” a series that favors true situation comedy and stylistic flair above trashy girl and bling clichés.

The comedic one-hour drama, which debuts Sunday, is executive produced by Rashida Jones (“Angie Tribeca”) and features a cast pulled from such critical successes as “Breaking Bad” (Norris), “Getting On” (Nash), “Lost” and “True Blood.”

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Harold Perrineau (of “Lost”) is Dean, Desna’s dependent and developmentally challenged brother. His plight propels Desna’s motivation to make more money, as well as her penchant for care-taking those around her.

Carrie Preston (“True Blood”) is manicurist Polly, a seemingly prim and proper Southern lady whose best days were back in the Reagan era. She just served time in prison for identity theft. When asked about her absence by an inquisitor who doesn’t notice the ankle monitor, Polly says she spent her time away as the “personal guest of novelist Judith Krantz.”

Quiet Ann (played by Judy Reyes) is the only manicurist at the salon who prefers combat boots to heels, and she guards the place with a baseball bat.

The youngest on staff, Virginia (Karrueche Tran), has nothing but disdain for her older bosses. She makes a mess of things when she gets tangled up with Desna’s main squeeze, drug clinic manager and wannabe gangsta Roller (Jack Kesy), and accidentally commits murder. It’s no easy task hiding a dead body in 6-inch acrylic heels and a bulky, pink fur jacket.

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Jennifer (Jenn Lyon) is Desna’s best friend and co-worker who also happens to be married to Uncle Daddy’s nephew. They bond over a past that includes attending Boyz II Men concerts together and a presentthat includes killer nail designs and money-laundering.

Throughout “Claws,” Nash sports the hyper-tight outfits and colorful nails that usually connote sassy black characters on every other TV show. But here she delivers a multi-faceted Desna torn between her career passion (“Nails are a window to the soul,” she says), her aspirations to open a high-end salon and the need to support her brother — and close friends at the salon — by any means necessary.

She’s ignored her own life in the process, a dynamic any working woman with dependents will likely connect with in “Claws.”

Over the first three shows of Season 1 (it’s 10 episodes in total), the story moves fast and is peppered with colorful performances by Norris as the flamboyant, bullying, opioid kingpin and surprisingly, Tran as the messed up, vapid millennial who always looks as if she just stepped out of a Chris Brown video (the two dated in real life).

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And that strip mall where it all takes place? You’ve been there, or at least driven by it, a thousand times. Just replace the “We Sell Big Shrimp” stand with the regional fast food of your area, and the nail salon with any old name. You know this downsized example of the shrinking American dream, except in “Claws” the drearily commonplace becomes a mecca of humor, drama and some of the best/worst fashion choices around.

‘Claws’

Where: TNT

When: 9 p.m. Sunday

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Rating: TV-MA-LSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17 with advisories for coarse language, sex and violence)

lorraine.ali@latimes.com

@lorraineali


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