Claws. TNT. Sunday, June 11, 9 p.m.
Blood Drive. SyFy. Wednesday, June 14, 10 p.m.
Summertime has arrived, and popcorn television is on us like a pack of rabid weasels. Like Santa and the elves at Christmas, sociopathic strippers and mechanical vampires frolic through the airwaves with increasing frequency until Labor Day Eve and the annual viewing of It's the Manson Girls, Charlie Brown!
Good popcorn TV movies and shows are, as they used to say on one of its first exemplars, faster than a speeding bullet, the better to distract you from its innate stupidity. Claws (which, I was momentarily disappointed to discover, is not a modern blood-and-boobs remake of the epochal 1957 popcorn masterpiece Attack of the Crab Monsters) sets some kind of record in that regard.
Set in a small-town Florida nail salon, it starts out like a Tyler Perry party-hearty sitcom, with astronomical numbers of tattoos, big butts, and random shouts of "Off the hook!" and "Shake it!" But within minutes it morphs into an entertaining, if slightly idiotic, action-suspense drama: The salon offers the full menu of traditional Florida services running from erotic asphyxiation to money-laundering to off-site drug hootchie-ism to murder.
At the center of this lunatic universe is Desna (Niecy Nash, Scream Queens), the salon's owner and chief emissary to the money-laundering world. Her henchpersons include just-out-of-jail Polly (Carrie Preston, True Blood) and resident butt-kicker Quiet Ann (Judy Reyes, Devious Maids). They're all perpetually undersupplied with money and oversupplied with unreliable men—or, in Quiet Ann's case, women.
Claws is the sort of show where funeral corteges include lines of flatbed truckers equipped with stripper poles, where characters reminisce about their good old days as hookers holed up in ratty beach motels "shooting Easter eggs out our butts" and launch into reflective soliloquies about the random interaction of the universe with human genitalia. "You tell yourself that you're just fulfilling your deepest carnal appetite, that deep need we all as human share for connectedness," muses Polly. "Then, boom, you're knocked up by a minor Kennedy."
Nash, Preston, and Reyes play their roles with such gusto that your profound, debilitating shame at enjoying Claws will fade quickly. Blood Drive may take a little longer, but ultimately the charm of dialogue like, "Hand up! Turn around! Drop the leg!" is difficult to resist.
A deeply deranged cross between Death Race 2000 and The Gumball Rally, Blood Drive—set in a wasteland America of 1999 (!) in which water is dispensed through ATM machines and the new police motto is We Kill Because We Care—is about an illegal cross-country race.
But where the titillation in Gumball Rally was that the vehicles all had their catalytic converters removed, the cars in this race run on human blood. (When an appalled cop who stumbles onto the race asks, why blood, one of the drivers replies: "Have you seen gas prices lately?") The winner gets $10 million; the losers get fed to their cars.
Like Claws, Blood Drive is part action-adventures thrills and spills, part darkly surrealist belly laughs. For instance, the drivers are regularly chided by a prim Siri-like voice from their cell phones that admonishes them for things like reckless driving but shrugs no-hard-no-foul when they feed a squad of Girl Scouts into a wood chipper for fuel.
But Blood Drive has much more of a grindhouse feel (literally, in the case of the refueling scenes with those toothy gas tanks) and it rarely can resist the opportunity for a sophomoric crack. The show arguably has the worst potty-mouth in the history of basic cable, and its humor often meanders the line between penile and puerile. A race driver named Clown Dick is funny, kinda; a female police sergeant screaming "Suck my dick!" kinda less.
Though it's not always easy to discern among all the phallicphobia and cannibalism, there is a plot running through Blood Drive. That cop who discovers the race is forced to join it, teaming with a rookie female driver. Together they begin to sense that a sinister multinational corporation is pulling a lot of the race's strings, and the world of Blood Drive, believe it or not, even more psycho than it looks.
Christina Ochoa (Animal Kingdom) and Alan Ritchson (Smallville) have a certain libidinous chemistry as Grace and Arthur, the unlikely driving partners. Not nearly as pretty but possibly more interesting is Colin Cunningham (Falling Skies) as the race's oily master of ceremonies, aptly named Julian Slink. My first impression of him was that he's a sort of heavy-metal version of the character Joel Grey played in Cabaret. My second was there's a vague sense of the undertaker about him. And the third was, boy, you'd never want to leave him alone with a dead body.