Popcorn TV: In praise of the low-key summer binge

By Jim Sabataso
Correspondent

With so much capital “I” important television out there, it’s easy to get blinders on as you leap from one buzz-worthy new show to the next. As a TV critic, I’m doubly guilty of this habit. While I am aware of the pretentious trap of giving preference to prestige TV above all else, I nonetheless fall into it more often than I’d care to admit.

The reality is, there’s a lot of solid, immensely watchable TV that gets lost in the shuffle. A decade or more ago, shows like “The Detour,” “The Expanse,” “Schitt’s Creek,” “Superstore,” “Preacher” and “Alias Grace” would dominate water-cooler conversation. Now, they have to share oxygen with “Game of Thrones,” “Atlanta,” “Big Little Lies,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Better Call Saul,” “Veep” and more.

While some of these shows are great, underrated and deserving of more critical and audience attention, others are merely enjoyable and engrossing distractions. Call it popcorn television — shows that are fun, easy to binge and a little trashy. It’s hardly a knock; popular series like “Scandal” or “House of Cards” fall into this category. These shows deal in exaggerated drama and outsized, often improbable and preposterous, stories. They may not be the most important or relevant things on TV, but they still make for good watching.

As summer winds down and network programming schedules hit the doldrums before the big fall push, I’ve been doing some popcorn bingeing of my own. One such show is the TNT dramedy “Claws.” Niecy Nash (“Reno 911,” “Getting On”) stars as Desna, the owner of a Palmetto, Florida, nail salon who gets pulled into the world of organized crime when she starts laundering money for a Florida crime family.

“Claws” is an unlikely pick. After being inundated with ads for it on a streaming video app for most of the summer, my girlfriend finally cued up an episode one evening out of curiosity. What we got was a soapy, effervescent and entertaining low-key binge — the type of show you can easily down three episodes of and forget about for a few days.

The always funny Nash gets to show off her dramatic acting skills as an in-over-her-head business owner who must juggle being in the pocket of the Dixie Mafia with her dream of owning her own business. At home, she also must care for her autistic adult brother Dean, played with care by Harold Perrineau (“Lost”).

Nash is joined by a strong supporting cast that includes Dean Norris (“Breaking Bad”), Judy Reyes (“Scrubs”) and Carrie Preston (“True Blood”).

Creator and showrunner Eliot Laurence has created a stylish, pulpy and colorful world that fits the popcorn aesthetic. His depiction of how class and wealth in Florida intersect and overlap is well observed and entertaining. He populates the show with characters that perfectly parody the bonkers Florida stereotypes we all know. Florida is a weird state full of weirdos, and Laurence captures that vibe with surreal characters, like Norris’ excitable crime boss Uncle Daddy.

While issues of race and class are inevitably baked into the show, it doesn’t explicitly dig into those politics in any meaningful way. Instead, it keeps things mostly light and breezy with lots of sex, violence and over-the-top performances.

“Claws” isn’t the type of show that asks much of its audience. There’s no puzzle to solve or dense core mythology to unpack. It doesn’t require any commitment beyond the episode you’re currently watching. As my girlfriend has been working her way through the show’s first season on Hulu (season two is currently winding down on TNT), I’ve dropped in and out without feeling lost or losing interest. It’s the perfect summer popcorn binge — fun, easy to consume, and a little bad for you.

CHECK IT OUT

Season one of “Claws” is currently streaming on Hulu.

Jim Sabataso

Jim Sabataso is a freelance writer living in Vermont.

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