Last summer’s most pleasant surprise turned out to be Claws, TNT’s comedic crime drama about a South Florida nail salon tied up in money laundering for the Dixie Mafia. With a charismatic cast led by Niecy Nash as Desna, a strong focus on female friendship, and an eye-popping Miami aesthetic, Claws turned out to be TNT’s biggest hit to date in the rebranding effort that began two years ago with Animal Kingdom and Good Behavior. (The second half of the first season is available now to catch up on demand.)
When we left Desna and her crew — childhood pal Jenn (Jenn Lyon), deceptively softspoken Polly (Carrie Preston), bratty millennial Virginia (Karrueche Tran), and dependable Quiet Ann (Judy Reyes) — Desna had gotten the Russian Mob, who had kidnapped one of Jenn’s daughters in an effort to get her father-in-law, local crime boss Uncle Daddy (Dean Norris, Breaking Bad) to give up his businesses, including the nail salon where Desna launders the ill-gotten gains from his overserving pain management clinic, to give back the little girl in exchange for continuing to launder all of the Russians’ money — a business she had spent the whole season desperately trying to break out of.
As we return, the balance of power at Nail Artisans of Manatee County has decidedly flipped, with Desna eclipsing Uncle Daddy and more or less running the clinic, while also struggling to meet the Russians’ demands to keep increasing profits, by other means if necessary. We also get to meet a new character, Zlata (Franka Potente, The Bourne Identity, Run Lola Run), who in addition to providing a good deal of comic relief with her thick accent, garish gold jewelry and mixed-animal print wardrobe, quickly asserts herself as the New Boss while insisting that she is a feminist.
She also demands that Desna and friends start selling coke through the male strip club she wants to open (called — wait for it — “Hammer and Pickle”), which provides pathological liar Polly, who never saw a personality or backstory she couldn’t shimmy into, with an amusing new side gig as the dancers’ coach. Meanwhile, Jenn opts out of anything illegal in hopes of repairing her marriage with Bryce (Kevin Rankin), now firmly a part of Uncle Daddy’s business; Virginia and Desna’s autistic brother Dean (Harold Perrineau) grapple with their unplanned pregnancy; Ann nurses her broken heart over her breakup with the police detective she fell in love with last season; and Roller (Jack Kesy), who spent most of last season kidnapped and presumed dead, is forced into a shotgun marriage with Zlata’s pregnant daughter, which provides an opportunity to infiltrate the Russians’ operation and take back what Uncle Daddy lost.
Oh yes, and Desna’s debonair Haitian doctor boyfriend (Jimmy Jean-Louis) was revealed to have been Uncle Daddy’s boss all along, and continues to scheme on how to roll back the Russian invasion although Desna is still not aware of any part of that.
This is one of those shows that is so quick, so breezy, with such immediately familiar, distinct characters, that an hourlong episode goes by in what feels like half that. Though its crime plot drives the show, it always makes time for scenes that don’t advance the plot but help to keep things grounded in the world of the nail salon and remind us why these women love the job and each other so much. If the existential despair and puzzle logic of Westworld doesn’t look like anything to you, particularly in the summer, Claws is the perfect splash of color.
Season 2 of Claws premieres at 9pm ET Sunday on TNT; the second half of season 1 is available now on demand.