Niecy Nash: Claws Works Because It’s Everything You Don’t Expect

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Niecy Nash: <i>Claws</i> Works Because It&#8217;s Everything You Don&#8217;t Expect

What made the first season of TNT’s Claws such a cult obsession was its seemingly uncanny ability to pluck a juicy, ripe peach off of the peak TV tree and roll it through writing, casting and political and social commentary until it started to bruise. Add a light dusting of dark humor and—following in the tradition of Weeds, Shameless, I’m Sorry, and other series fronted and/or run by women—Claws became a sticky, tangy, sweet mess of a comedy that had us immediately clamoring for more.

Luckily, that “more” is coming June 10 when Claws, from creator Eliot Laurence and showrunner Janine Sherman Barrois, returns for a second season. And just in case newcomers only now hearing about the series think my fruit metaphor is an overreaction, here’s just some of what happened by the end of the dramedy’s first season: Star Niecy Nash’s savvy nail technician Desna Simms had big dreams of running an upstanding Sarasota, Fla. salon, and she managed to make a deal that got her out from under the thumb of Dean Norris’ unapologetically ostentatious drug lord Clay “Uncle Daddy” Husser. It did not go down easily and ended with a bloody shootout, the kidnapping of a small child, and Desna and her squad of manicure and beauty experts indebted to an even more dangerous crime family: the Russian mob.

Desna also fell hard for Dr. Gregory Ruval (Jimmy Jean-Louis), even though the audience has already received confirmation that he’s too good to be true. Her brother Dean (Harold Perrineau), to whom she is fiercely loyal, has begun dating Karrueche Tran’s Virginia—the Pinkman to Desna’s Walter White and the youngest member of the nail salon’s crew, whose desire for a healthy support system of friends is almost as strong as her inability to stay out of trouble. (She doesn’t put up much of a fight when they go after her ethnicity or fashion choices with monikers like China Doll and Rainbow Brite). So, yeah, Desna is not going to like that Virginia’s pregnancy test came back positive…

No wonder Dean told Desna last year that she needs to make better life choices. But will she?

“Absolutely not!” Nash laughs when Paste reaches her by phone while she’s en route to the Claws set in New Orleans, La. “She still is doing bad things in her mind for a very good reason. She’s still trying to get everybody to the Promised Land.”

And by that, Nash means, Desna’s still working to keep her girls (and her brother) gainfully employed and safely out of the line of fire. Not only does that entail getting her hands dirty with the money laundering and oxycodone industry happening a few doors down from the nail salon; it also requires meeting her new employers’ extended family. Run Lola Run’s Franka Potente joins the cast this season as Zlata Ostrovsky, the sister of Andrea Sooch’s boss lady, Riva, and a character whom Nash describes as wanting more of a “mentor-mentee” relationship with a potential protégé like Desna.

“[Desna] spent the first season trying to get out from underneath it all and second season… she has leaned into what exactly is happening in her life and she wants to reap the benefits of it,” Nash says. “I like not playing catch-up so much. I like being in front of the choices that I’m making. That’s a good thing for me.”

The show will also continue its reputation for over-the-top dance scenes—last year’s involved the ladies of Nail Artists of Manatee County enjoying a much-deserved dance break to Lady Marmalade while other characters found themselves committing murder—and, especially for Desna, body positive costume choices. (Nash says she’s particularly fond of a denim jumpsuit and colorful boots that she wears in this season’s second episode—thanks, costume designer Dolores Ybarra).

“It is very empowering and I like it from the standpoint that you don’t get to see a lot of women who look like me in that role on television,” says Nash, who also recently told the Los Angeles Times that Claws was the first series to ask her to perform sex scenes—of which there are several.

Given that her résumé leans toward rackety comedies like Comedy Central’s Reno 911! and Fox’s Scream Queens and TV Land’s more traditional multi-cam, The Soul Man, Nash says that her Claws character “is not a familiar space.” “But,” she continues, “I think it’s warranted because I love the fact that that particular demographic of women get to see themselves as sexy and sexual and having sex for their own pleasure and on their own terms.”

Plus, it isn’t like she’s the only one on Claws getting this kind of material. In addition to Desna and Virginia, the dyed-in-the-wool staff at Nail Artisans of Manatee County includes True Blood’s Carrie Preston as Polly, an ex-con with a penchant for melding fact and fiction; Scrubs’ Judy Reyes as the out and proud (but mostly mute) Quiet Ann; and Justified’s Jenn Lyon as Jennifer, the real talk bestie who will tell you the truth even if she can’t handle it herself. Norris’ aforementioned Uncle Daddy? He’s openly bisexual and has a taste for gold jewelry, purple bathrobes and the art of water ballet.

“We have a little bit of everything, but I love it because we don’t shine a light like, ‘Oh my goodness, here’s somebody who’s transgender. Oh my goodness, here’s a man who’s [bisexual],’” Nash said last summer, a half hour or so after she’d just told a crowd of journalists at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour that diversity was not simply a two-race, two-income matter. Not surprisingly, Nash finds it frustrating that some feel like the series is checking all the progressive boxes. “We just write characters who live their lives,” she added. “You don’t have to explain. It’s not the butt of a joke… Which is more representative of how the world is. You don’t know what somebody is up to when they shut their damn door. You don’t know. It shouldn’t matter.”

“When I do interviews, one of the things they always say is, ‘Here’s a list of black actresses who are leading shows, therefore things have changed, right?’ And, ‘Are you OK with this progress that’s been made?’” Nash said then, noting that we need to look for stories with a range of racial and economic diversity. “I’m happy for the black women who have shows and are leading the charge, but the world is so much bigger than black and white women… There’s just a lot of women in the world who have stories, and it goes far beyond the black and the white of it all.”

The fact that it’s so much and also so grounded and therefore “everything that people did not expect” is what makes Claws work, Nash says. But, she adds, “What did you expect?… So we are five badass women who are complicated, funny, flawed and unapologetic about how we live our lives, and I don’t think there’s anything stereotypical about it.”

Claws: It only seems like it’s loaded with sugar.

Season Two of Claws premieres Sunday, June 10 at 9 p.m. on TNT.

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