“Claws” & Its Impact on the Patriarchy of Modern TV

Katherine McCrea 

Staff Writer

“Claws”, a show that on the surface looks like a fun girl boss, high energy show with lots of quirky characters, hits deeper and a lot tougher than you’d expect from the slick styles, the flashy cars, and gorgeous nails.

“Claws” at its heart is a show about family and outsiders.  It takes people you’d probably never look at twice or say hello to on the street because, let’s face it, most of us would avoid these areas altogether, and shows you can have a funny, poignant, deep dive into outsiders, sex workers, body positivity, lgbtq community, and family.

“Claws” revolves around Desna Sims and her crew at the Artisans Nail Salon of Manatee County in Florida, where she does more than just killer nails.  Her crew includes her best friend Jennifer, who’s married to Desna’s boyfriend’s brother, Quiet Anne, her “enforcer,” Polly, the waspy pretender, and Virginia, aka China Doll, who started at Desna’s to fill in for Polly after Polly had a little run in with the law.  On the surface, everything looks fun and shiny, from Desna’s Versace inspired body hugging jumpsuits to her salon to her car, but if you look just a little bit closer, you can see the car’s an older model, her house has leaks and is falling apart, and there’s cracks in the paint and starting in her crew at the salon.

What looks like a slick, well run, popular salon is also a front for laundering cash for the “Dixie Mafia” as Desna calls it. The mafia is run by Clay, who runs a clinic which is really a front for running opioids, and Clay’s nephews, Roller and Bryce, who are Desna and Jenn’s boyfriend and husband.  Everything seems to be going great, but all hell breaks loose and that’s when things start to fall apart at the salon.  This isn’t about recapping the show, but I felt a little background and relationship status was needed before I went further.

“Claws” is unique because it includes characters that are normally punchlines or stereotypes and gives them fully fleshed out arcs and not only that, celebrates their professions and sexuality.  Part of Uncle Daddy’s holdings is a strip club called She She’s, and that’s where Virginia came from after attacking a customer that assaulted her.  She filled in for Polly’s character while Polly was doing a bid for being a con artist.  At first, the crew hates Virginia because she’s an outsider and screws Roller, trying to get ahead in the game the only way she knows how.  After a shared traumatic experience puts her and Desna on the same playing field, Desna reluctantly takes her under her wing and starts teaching her how to survive without applying the trade she knew, so to speak.  While Desna is doing this, it’s important to note she never belittles Virginia for being a sex worker, just trying to jump the line by screwing Desna’s boyfriend, which kind of sets the whole sequence of events off once Desna catches them.

She She’s is an important side venue for characters that in most shows would be “othered” at best, if mentioned at all.  Especially in the first season, we’re introduced to Virginia’s roommate Relevance, who is a trans sex worker and played by trans actor Angelica Ross from “Pose”,  and Uncle Daddy’s fling, Toby, who is also trans.  Relevance is only on season one because the actress (Angelica Ross) went on to star in “Pose” on FX, but Toby is an essential character and his and Uncle Daddy’s relationship becomes a driving force throughout the series, but especially in season three.  

Part of what makes “Claws” truly unique is the cast and crew.  I’ve rarely seen a more diverse cast and writer’s room, and I think that intersectionality is what gives this show its flavor.  The cast, made up of Niecy Nash, Jennifer Lyon, Judy Reyes, Carrie Preston, Karruche Tran, Dean Norris, Harold Perrineau, Kevin Rankin, Jason Antoon, Ewan Daigle, and Suleka Mathew, is one of the most diverse and intersectional I’ve seen outside of the L Word, Gen Q or Pose.  

The cast, the location of South Florida, the writers, all make this show pop in a way that’s both fun and meaningful.  The episodes have a great flow, lots of twists, turns, and heartfelt moments as well as moments that make you burst out laughing or go wtf in ways you’d never expect from a show that on the surface looks like any other fun but shallow show.  The writing is truly what gives this show its heart, and makes you care for characters that by all rights, should absolutely hate and are monsters.  The complexity of the characters draws you in, and you find yourself caring about Uncle Daddy, Toby, Wanda, almost as much as you do about Desna, Dean, Jenn, or Bryce and their relationships.  In the end, the writing brings the characters all together in a complicated, intricate, sometimes frustrating, but always intriguing way that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

There’s so many layers to this show, but at the heart is family and sisterhood.  When you dig into that, they know what makes each other tick, know how to lift each other up or tear them down.  When I mentioned body positivity and inclusion earlier, that’s part of what I meant.  Most of this cast is not your typical size two flawless beauties we tend to see on the screen.  They’re gorgeous, but in relatable, attainable ways.  Desna and Jenn have gorgeous curvy, sexy figures, and know how to dress and work it to their advantage.  That’s something you rarely see, “full figured” women that not only exude confidence in themselves, but in their bodies and sexuality as well.  They never question their looks or have self doubt in why men are attracted to them, which you rarely see in shows, and not only that, it just comes so naturally to them it’s not even a blip on the radar, but believe me, fans notice and appreciate it.  

Sexuality is also a big component of this show, and it’s great at intersional sexualtiy.  Two of the main relationships are gay or lesbian, and the Uncle Daddy, Toby, and Wanda relationship is basically a thruple with no secrets from each other.  I like the fact that the show didn’t feel the need to make all the lgbtq characters perfect or sympathetic.  Clay is a racist, white trash, drug dealing king pin, but still owns his sexuality and his relationships.  Toby becomes his main relationship after certain events take place, but he’s never regulated to a secondary character and has a huge impact on the story later in the series.  Quiet Ann enters a relationship with a lesbian cop, which complicates matters for the crew, and Ann has to make some impossible choices because of it. Desna and Jenn are straight, but even then, seeing women with their body types as confident, sexual beings that they are is a dynamic you rarely see on screen without it being the whole storyline.

When Virginia gets involved with Desna’s brother Dean, who is Autistic, it shows yet another relationship we don’t normally see on screen.  The relationship brings Virginia and Des even closer, though they still clash because Des has always been Dean’s primary caregiver since they were abandoned at a young age.  Desna has to come to terms with Dean being his own man and being able to carry on a relationship and make his own life choices, and as someone who craves control, that’s extremely hard for her to do.

I could go on and on about why this show is so great, but ultimately, I want you to watch it for yourself and hopefully come to love it as much as I have. The final season is wrapped and supposed to air later this fall, having been delayed due to Covid, so you have plenty of time to catch up on Hulu.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment, What to Watch

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