Small Screened

'Claws' Season 2 Is TV's Overlooked Summer Gem

claws tnt
Doug Hyun/TNT

There is no greater joy on TV right now than Claws. Now in its second season on TNT, the show rivals the most prestigious of its peers in just about every category imaginable -- and it does it while looking infinitely more fabulous.

Part of the show’s heightened sense of style is inherently baked in: it’s set in central Florida, and centers on a group of women trying to run a nail salon while tangled up with the Dixie Mafia, the area crime syndicate, with larger ties to the American south, headed by Dean Norris's Clay "Uncle Daddy" Husser. It’s a mix of elements that begs for bright colors and outlandish antics, and Claws more than delivers in the form of repeated interstitials of blinged-out nails, as well as musical numbers and water ballet interludes.

The degree to which Claws is visually inventive is a source of constant delight; the second episode of the new season featured a discussion presented in a Brady Bunch­-esque grid, and the third began with a black and white I Love Lucy parody, as well as an argument styled as a TV debate. Though they might seem like incongruous gimmicks, these sequences are typical of the kind of juxtaposition that’s common on Claws -- the bright and gaudy colors are framing much darker, more nuanced themes. The grid, for instance, is used to present a discussion on abortion, and the debate is used to frame the respective sides of a divorce.

claws tnt
Skip Bolen/TNT

But the real reason that Claws works, even when the tonal disparities sometimes fail to land and the gangland antics start to seem absurd, is the writing. The show puts women front and center, and for all that the aesthetic might seem cartoonish, the relationships between the characters are nothing if not real. Recent TV has seen more care taken when it comes to the portrayal of friendships and relationships between women -- Killing Eve comes to mind -- and Claws is easily at the forefront. The characters are, like the show, only caricatures on a surface level (one is a Lilly Pulitzer-clad con artist, another a baseball bat-toting enforcer); the writing goes much deeper.

The show deals with their personal struggles -- the family fallout that can come with coming out, balancing being there for your friends with doing what’s necessary for yourself, the hard parts of motherhood -- as well as the way that relationships can shift and twist. The second season sees Desna Simms (Niecy Nash), who runs the nail salon, dealing with Zlata Ostrovsky (Franka Potente), a Russian mobster who, even in the season's earliest episodes, has already proven herself a singular villain. She wears huge gold chains and forces subordinates to literally lick her boots, yes, but she’s also much more insidious, twisting feminist rhetoric to manipulate the women around her instead of empowering them as she promises.

There’s so much going on in Claws that it’s sometimes dizzying, but it’s hard to complain when it does so much of it so well. I’ve found myself laughing and crying within moments of each other, and the cast carries those shifts magnificently. Niecy Nash is a powerhouse, and when combined with Carrie Preston, Judy Reyes, Jenn Lyon, and Karrueche Tran, Claws becomes nigh unstoppable.

Plenty about the show’s surface appearance suggests that it’s a trashy, wild romp, but to leave it at that would be to make the same mistake that its male characters do, ie. to underestimate the women of the nail salon. Do yourself a favor -- make Claws appointment viewing.

Claws airs Sundays at 9p.m. EST on TNT. Season 1 is available to stream on Hulu.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Karen Han is a writer based in New York City. Her work appears on Vox.com, The Atlantic, SlashFilm, and New York Magazine's Vulture.