Sunday, June 18, 2017

REVIEW: 'Claws' - Desna and Virginia Struggle to Come Up with a Consistent Story in 'Funerary'

TNT's Claws - Episode 1.02 "Funerary"

Following their entanglement with Roller, Desna and Virginia desperately prepare a cover story to tell the girls and the Dixie Mafia. Desna's dream salon is falling out of her grasp. Virginia suddenly goes MIA, only to return with a concocted story that sends Desna on a journey she never thought she would have to take.

Roller's death is very overwhelming to the narrative in "Funerary." That's not particularly surprising because it's the big event that the premiere ended on that would reshape the lives of the main characters. There needed to be big and important reactions to it. But it also feels like it's taking time and attention away from characters who need more development as well. The supporting cast really don't have their own stories and personalities. They have brief moments but certainly not enough to really engage with them. So, the main narrative may be too much for the show right now. It would perhaps be better to spend time spreading the wealth among this talented cast. The main story has some wild tonal shifts throughout this episode. That seems like it's going to be a major quality of the show. The characters can have these grounded emotional moments but they can also be over-the-top and broad with comedy. It's a blend that has worked for many shows over the years. Claws doesn't really have things calibrated to the right level at the moment. It's ridiculous moments are too broad while the grounded stuff isn't as engaging because the character work has been so minor. As such, it makes "Funerary" more problematic than last week's series premieres.

Also, the show isn't as original as it thinks it is. The pilot had conventional structuring to it. And now, the second episode primarily deals with getting rid of Roller's body and getting away with the murder. That has become so common through the prestige genre over the last decade. It's gotten to the point where if a show doesn't come up with a surprising and new way to dispose of a body, then it doesn't seem worth the effort. On this show, the comedy comes from Desna and Virginia simply not knowing what to do but seemingly getting away with it anyway. It's a little hard to believe. The story is focused so much on them and their struggle to keep all of this together as more and more details are released to the other people in this world. But there isn't really a police presence to this story. There's no investigation as to how this happened. There's no desire to understand how things went wrong for Roller. It allows Desna and Virginia to be trapped inside their own thoughts in the immediate aftermath. They are the ones traumatized the most by this because they actually killed him. But it doesn't play as them struggling to survive because of an investigation that could reveal everything and either send them to prison or get them killed. Instead, it's a story about the two of them needing to come up with more and more elaborate lies in order to keep their concocted story going.

Of course, both Desna and Virginia are willing to put on performances to fool the rest of the world that there is much more going on regarding Roller's death. Desna is shocked just like everyone else when Bryce comes driving up to the salon falling apart because his brother is missing. She's fulfilling the role of the grieving widow. She's doing so because it's the only way for her to survive. She has to act this way so no one suspects her of killing him. She tells a story to Uncle Daddy about Roller being nervous about something but not saying what. It was on the day he died too. So, Desna knows what she has to do. But her manipulations are a little too easy and cheap. It makes the other characters around her seem deem as a result. Meanwhile, Virginia has gone missing. She's running away from her problems because she doesn't trust Desna to protect her. She believes Desna will sell her out the moment it's in her best interest. The two of them are an unlikely partnership because they don't like or trust each other. That quality still continues in the cover-up of their crime. Desna is the one in charge trying to keep a lid on the situation. And now, Virginia just busts into the room and faints. She's telling a completely different story about being kidnapped and beaten up for information because of Roller. So, that will only extend the lie further in the next episode as Uncle Daddy searches for the truth. The bigger things get, the harder they'll be for Desna and Virgina to control. That seems to be the core foundation for the story this season. It's not particularly new or groundbreaking. Some more specificity will help it stand out in the execution.

"Funerary" is also missing the strong sense of female unity that the series premiere had so much of. Desna, Polly, Jennifer and Quiet Ann were best friends who held strong together. They were supportive of each other. Of course, they could be mean and cruel as well. They were that way to Virginia because she was different from them. But now, Desna and Virginia have this huge secret. At first, it seemed like Desna was going to let her friends in on the truth because she needed their support. And yet, that would only cause more problems because Jennifer is married to Bryce, who is now Uncle Daddy's replacement for Roller in the business. So, that's another complicated thrown on top of everything. So, it seems impossible for Desna to ever tell the truth with her closest friends. That could be really damaging to the show though because the female friendships were the spark of the premiere. It was the quality that stood out the most in that first episode. And yet, the story right now is much more interested in the plot and the characters keeping secrets from each other. That's not a great thing to do. If these characters really are friends, then they should be honest with each other. Secret keeping has become a tired convention of the genre as well. And again, if a show can't find a new spin on it, then it shouldn't do it. Claws hasn't found that way in yet. So, it seems like the story is becoming too complicated just to be complicated.

However, Niecy Nash's performance is still great. She still brings a grounded quality to this world that is very necessary and important. Her character journey is strong and compelling. She's able to exist in the multiple parts of this world and still feel like the same character. That's not true with the rest of the cast. The most problematic being Dean Norris. He has been so good on so many other shows. But here, it seems like a different character and performance in every single scene. One moment he's this over-the-top gangster high on a luxurious life. Then, he and his wife are punching each other after learning that Roller is dead. Then, he's pushing his car. And then, he has an honest and grounded conversation with Desna about Roller and the love she had for him. Then, he's literally on the ground weeping during the funeral. And finally, he's performing a mournful song at the reception. He's wildly all over the place. When he's interacting with Desna, it's the best version of the character. One that may actually be a threat to her future. In that version, he's grounded and menacing in a captivating way. The rest of the time it seems like an excuse to be as excessive and over-the-top as possible. There's room for some broad qualities in this world. But they have to make sense too. Most of the time those moments just play as too silly and can take the viewer out of the experience.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Funerary" was written by Eliot Laurence and directed by Howard Deutch.
  • The funeral for Roller is just absolutely ridiculous. As a character, he comes across as a pathetic white-boy rapper wannabe. And yet, the show is playing that completely straight with everyone loving him. So, it's apparently not strange that there's a parade in his honor with half naked women dancing in the street. To honor his legacy, everyone throws a party with even more provocative dancing. It's just too strange and silly to work.
  • Desna can definitely spin Virginia's new story to her advantage. But it also means they'll now need to make an enemy out of someone in order to blame Roller's death on them. It will most likely be the Russians because they were causing problems in the premiere. But again, that seems like a lot of work just to save the lives and dreams of these two characters.
  • It's absolutely horrifying that Roller was seen as an aspirational figure to anyone. It makes it more tragic when Dean wants to be more like Roller moving forward. His death could really affect Dean in some unexpected ways which would only cause more problems for Desna.
  • Polly begins her community service. Instead of actually doing a ton of work, she instead comes up with an elaborate story to tell young girls about her time in jail. It includes running a prostitution ring out of a modeling agency. It's amusing because of the personality shift within Polly. Hopefully, there's more of that in the future.
  • Jennifer is one of the five main female characters. And yet here, she is put into the mold of the supportive but nagging wife. It's annoying and not that interesting. She's fine helping Bryce with his life coach business. But she becomes very stereotypical when it comes to Uncle Daddy asking Bryce to replace Roller in the business.
  • Quiet Ann doesn't have much depth at the moment. She tries breaking up with her girlfriend because she's too thirsty. But then, she has to get back together with her because she's making a scene at the salon. That's basically all there is to this story. It's not enough if Quiet Ann is suppose to be one of the leads.
  • Desna having her dream salon is still a possibility even though she didn't have all the financing together in the premiere. Of course, now it seems unlikely because she's too focused on dealing with Roller's death. That's an important complication. It shows how this action is ruining the life she wants to be living. She can't be at the salon to impress a mystery customer. Instead, the complications of this world ruin her chances of obtaining her dream. That's effectively crushing and too small here.