Review | ‘Claws’ is fun, terrifically acted, but you won’t recognize Palmetto

Meet some of the cast and crew of a new TNT show debuting in June and set in Palmetto

"Claws" is about five manicurists at a Palmetto nail salon. The show was being filmed Monday in Sarasota on Lido Beach.
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"Claws" is about five manicurists at a Palmetto nail salon. The show was being filmed Monday in Sarasota on Lido Beach.

Some people are excited because “Claws” might lead people around the country to take notice of Palmetto. Other have expressed concern that a crime drama set in Palmetto (but filmed elsewhere) might give people misconceptions about the town.

In the first few episodes, there’s little reason to celebrate and little reason to fret.

“Claws,” as most people around here know by now, is set in a fictitious nail salon in Palmetto. The women who work at the salon launder money for a legal but shady pain clinic, which leads them into all sorts of trouble. The highly advertised premiere is at 9 p.m. Sunday on TNT, but the first episode has aired in a sneak preview. (The premiere episode will also stream on Twitter starting at 10 p.m. Sunday.)

The network has provided the first three episodes to reviewers. So far, the reaction has been mixed. Some reviewers have found the premise and the characters far-fetched and the blend of comedy and drama awkward. Others have praised the ensemble cast and the briskly paced tongue-in-cheek action.

Both views are legitimate. We’re supposed to cheer for a lot of people who carry out some pretty nasty acts, including the occasional murder, and we’re supposed to like people such as Carrie Preston’s character, an ex-con and compulsive liar. If you can’t do that, you’re not going to like the show much.

There’s not much that’s Palmetto-specific in the early episodes.

But the acting by the ensemble cast, including Dean Norris of “Breaking Bad” as a drawling drug kingpin named Uncle Daddy, and the chemistry among the disparate women of the salon make it easy to let “Claws” just flow over you. Unless you’re making a conscious effort to analyze, the imperfections probably won’t bother you much.

The premiere episode drags at first as we’re introduced to the many characters and the complex premise and relationships. The second show, slated to air June 18, heats up and puts the emphasis on drama and action, with only a few chuckles. In the June 25 episode, “Claws” feels as though it has found its groove. It’s funny and intense, and ends with some twists that make you wish you could watch the next episode right away.

We meet most of the women of the nail salon in the first few minutes. They drive to the salon parking lot from different directions while percussive music blares and pull up at the same moment. It seems as though something special is happening that day. It turns out that their friend Polly (played by Preston) has just been released from jail. She comes back to work at the salon, and there’s a lot of character exposition and female bonding.

We eventually learn that Desna, played by Niecy Nash (who’s terrific in the role), is trying to move into a swankier location. In the meantime, though, she’s helping out her hunky boyfriend Roller by laundering money that he takes in from the pain clinic he runs. (It’s actually owned by Uncle Daddy, but Roller manages it.) It’s New Year’s Eve, and Desna is supposed to get a huge bonus from Uncle Daddy, but he pretty much stiffs her. Roller sides with Uncle Daddy. So Desna’s angry with Roller, even before she finds out he’s messing around with sexy young Virginia (Karrueche Tran).

That’s a lot of story for a single episode, but there’s much more before that first hour is up.

Besides Nash, Preston and Tran, the nail salon ladies are Judy Reyes as tough lesbian Quiet Anne and Jenn Lyon as Jennifer, who’s married to Roller’s brother. Neither of them have a whole lot to do in the early episodes.

The main men are Uncle Daddy, Roller (Jack Kesy), Ken Brickman (Jason Antoon), the bumbling doctor at the clinic, and Dean (Harold Perrineau), Desna’s autistic brother, who lives with her.

It’s reasonable to expect that the show stays solid for the rest of season one (10 episodes), because TNT officials, who know where the story is headed, have already made plans for a second season, even before the official premiere of the series.

If you’re looking forward to “Claws” because you think it will be a really fun new TV show, with great acting, some decent plots and interesting and strong female characters, you’re likely to be satisfied.

Judging from the first episodes, “Claws” may not do much, good or bad, for Palmetto. The salon itself is called “Nail Artisans of Manatee County,” which is a pretty bad name for a business. So the locale is set, but the only specific references to Palmetto are on shopping plaza signs that you might not notice if you aren’t looking for them.

The second episode has a couple of mentions of Palmetto. A detective identifies himself as being from the Palmetto Police Department, and one character tells another that they should go “back to Palmetto.”

The third installment is heavier on the Palmetto references. In one, Desna crashes an upscale party in Sarasota. She tells some of the guests that she owns a nail salon in Palmetto Plaza, and one asks her if it’s “safe over there.” It’s not clear whether she’s concerned about Palmetto or about the specific neighborhood around the fictitious Palmetto Plaza. And you’re not supposed to like the snooty Sarasotans in the scene too much anyway.

Other than that, there’s not much that’s Palmetto-specific in the early episodes. There are no recognizable Palmetto locations (the show films mostly in Louisiana) and no attempt to describe or depict the town and its lifestyle. In fact, except for the scenes in the salon and the pain clinic (which is called Suncoast Rejuvenation), you’re never sure exactly where the action is taking place. It’s all in this general area, but it could be anywhere around here.

So if you’re looking forward to “Claws” because you think it will be a really fun new TV show, with great acting, some decent plots and interesting and strong female characters, you’re likely to be satisfied.

If you’re looking forward to it because it’s all about Palmetto, you’ll be disappointed.

Marty Clear: 941-708-7919, @martinclear

Florida flubs in ‘Claws’

“Claws” was created by Californians and it’s filmed mostly in Louisiana. But it’s set in Manatee County, and largely in Palmetto. The people who write the show probably aren’t overly concerned about details of Palmetto geography and colloquialisms, but viewers around here will be looking for those details.

The show’s early episodes do a pretty good job with the specifics. The Louisiana flora is similar and the terrain is flat. But there are some minor but amusing slips in the first couple of episodes.

Among them:

▪ A character talks about a family member who went “up to Okeechobee.”

▪ Virginia, a.k.a. Saigon (Karrueche Tran), makes up an involved story that involves her walking back toward Palmetto from Lake Manatee, after a long ordeal. She’s barefoot, but she walks to the interstate (probably 10 miles) and then walks along I-75 for “miles and miles.” Nobody seems to question the story.

▪ In another scene, Virginia talks about walking along “the 301” but not seeing any cars. Like that would ever happen.

▪ It’s hard to determine the exact timeline, but from a narrative standpoint the first three episodes seem to take place over the course of a few weeks at most. It’s New Year’s Eve when the first show episode starts, but 95 degrees by episode 3. Palmetto’s temperatures wouldn’t happen for at least five or six months.

▪ In the first couple of episodes, characters refer frequently to “the swamp” as if it’s a nearby place we all know. (It’s apparently at “the end of the Manatee River,” according to one reference.)

▪ On the other hand, the characters do a pretty good job of describing the location of the real-life Beef O’Brady’s in Parrish. Product placement is pretty obvious in “Claws,” so it’s reasonable to assume that Beef O’Brady’s people made sure the show didn’t get that wrong.

“Claws” is fiction, and the Palmetto it depicts is fictional. Still, keeping an eye out for anomalies as the show goes in ought to add to the viewing experience for local fans.

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