If only one TV show last summer was the guilty pleasure, it was “Claws,” returning for its second season June 10.
The darkly comic crime drama centers on Desna Simms, played by Niecy Nash, the owner of a nail salon in Central Florida who looks after a crew of fellow stylists who know how to break a law or two when they have to. They launder money for the pain clinic next door — a front to illegally sell prescription painkillers by the bucket-load for local crime boss Uncle Daddy. Desna is trying to get out from under Uncle Daddy’s thumb, get out of the crime racket and relocate her and her employees to a legit and more lucrative location, all the while caring for her mentally challenged brother, dodging literal and figurative bullets from undercover police as well as the ex-boyfriend she tried to murder and dump in the swamp and, because why not, the Russian Mafia.
Sounds insane, right? And it is, but it works. We dare you to watch the first episode and not get hooked. The show is overflowing with drama, camp, decadence and gaudy Southern glamour, dizzying plot twists and wild swings in mood and tone. If you thought the first season was a rollercoaster ride, the first few episodes of season two only get crazier. You might be laughing at a situation one minute, then watching things go horribly wrong the next. But you can’t look away.
Eliot Laurence, who created the series and also was a writer for “The Big Gay Sketch Show,” talked about walking the fine line between raucous comedy and visceral action and drama.
“Every day is a tightrope. But that’s the challenge. There are tender moments. There’s violence. There’s dazzling nail artistry and dance numbers. It’s not easy, and I have to throw so much love to our incredible staff because somehow they manage to ground all of the madness. They somehow manage to bring it home and make it believable. It just speaks to the talent of our incredible cast.”
There are a lot of outlandish and interesting characters, some of whom are gay and lesbian. Uncle Daddy, played by Dean Norris, is probably one of the most striking. A devoutly Christian crime boss who has a devoted wife and owns a strip club, Uncle Daddy also has a barely dressed boyfriend, Toby, living in the same mansion. Toby regularly performs increasingly elaborate shows for his entertainment. There is also Quiet Ann, played by Judy Reyes, Desna’s right hand.
Laurence said it was important for him to create diverse and believable characters that aren’t stereotypical.
“Some of the archetypes are familiar,” he said. “Toby, the boy toy, the twink, we’ve seen before, but I wanted him to stand out. Uncle Daddy is his own animal. He’s bi. He doesn’t care what anybody thinks about it but he’s also a male-chauvinist pig. I don’t think he thinks of himself as a bisexual man. He’s just this dominant bull out of the classical mold of ancient Greece and Rome when gay, straight and bi weren’t in so many boxes. I feel like he’s plucked from that sexual ambiguity.”
The setting for “Claws,” Manatee County near Sarasota, is almost a character in itself. Laurence said the wild and sometime-incongruous mix of cultures and social eccentricities you find in Central Florida is the perfect place to set the show.
“It’s because there are so many types of people down there. There are Cubans. There are Haitians. There’s a lot of white trash. There are retired Jewish people. There are super-rich people and super-poor people. And it’s this place where all of this stuff bumps and grinds up against each other in fascinating ways. It’s doesn’t quite become a melting pot. It’s sort of chunky and odd, and you get the opportunity to jam people together that might not be in other spaces or worlds. That granularity makes it perfect.”
Season two of “Claws” premieres June 10 on TNT.