'The Client List' Doesn't Hit the Right Spots

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Last night Lifetime: Television For Room-Temperature Wine Drinkers debuted its newest series, The Client List, a supposedly sexy and scandalous show about a gal (Jennifer Love Hewitt) who joins the oldest profession (sort of) to make ends meet in these tough economic times.

The Client List was originally a movie cooked up by the network back in 2010, supposedly inspired by the whole Eliot Spitzer/Ashley Dupré hullabaloo. But the movie, and the subsequent TV show, don't muchl resemble that high-class scandal, instead firmly rooting themselves in the 99 percent tales of sweet-talkin', hard-workin' Texan moms who just gotta do what they gotta do to protect their families. On the show, Hewitt plays Riley, a wife and mother of two whose construction worker husband has been out of work for months while the bank keeps calling about the dang mortgage. So Riley goes out and pounds the pavement looking for work as a massage therapist, seeing as she's got the training and all.

Luckily she runs into an old friend who's driving a fancy car and looking fabulous and who tells her to come on by the massage parlor where she works, a dumpy on the outside/nice on the inside joint called The Rub (ew) that's owned by none other than Loretta Devine. Riley, all pert and perky as she is, is hired right away and the family celebrates. Or at least seems to. Trouble is, when Riley comes home after her first day she discovers that her hunky hubby has left her, taken all his clothes and left a note and hit the road, so now she's all alone with her two small kids (and her mom, Cybil Shepherd) and needs money more than ever. And that's how she begins providing The Rub's most elite service, for which she gets substantial tips. Yes, this is a Lifetime series that's essentially about handjobs. It's as awkward as it sounds.

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There are many things that are plainly ridiculous about this series. In one montage Riley looks utterly disgusted by her various non-happy-ending clients — an old woman, a hairy guy, a man sneezing from a cold — which might make sense for some random person asked to put their hands all over these people, but isn't she supposed to have a college degree in this and to have done the job before? No wonder she had trouble finding work as a masseuse; she hates touching people! The show also goes to annoying lengths to beatify Riley, making her handy new job more palatable by having her really talk to her clients and understand them in a kind, caring, innocent way. Meaning, she saves a marriage in the first episode, all with the power of her generic, empty bits of advice. Plus for a show all about a particular act, it completely shies away from anything but the silliest of innuendos (Devine's character is named Georgia Cummings). It's trying to be a risky, sexy show and yet there's nothing remotely risky or sexy about it. It's a gauzily filmed family drama occasionally dotted with brief scenes of sheet-covered naked guys asking Jennifer Love Hewitt to touch their inner thighs. Hm.

But of course, this being Lifetime, there are also some fun, if clunky, aspects to the show. Hunky hubby left, which is sad of course, but good thing he has an even hunkier brother (Something Borrowed's Colin Egglesfield) with whom there will undoubtedly be some sort of illicit tension. And it will be pretty hilarious if, like the saved marriage plot in this episode, the ol' Handjob Saloon becomes the setting for case-of-the-week problem solving. Sure the cases would mostly have to involve troubled marriages, but maybe they could branch out eventually? "On the next episode of The Client List, Riley uses her rubbing skills to catch a notorious cat burglar." Things like that! If Lifetime wants to give us a silly show, they should really give us a silly show. In the TV movie the character goes into full-on prostitution, which we sort of doubt this series will have her do, but you never know! If that happens, well things could actually get pretty interesting.

Though, we suspect the show will stay on the same soft-focus course of the pilot. Family struggles abound, as do handjobs, and then everything feels sorta tidy by the end of the episode. Sure it's unclear if hubby will come back, and yes there will likely be more jealous wives to contend with, but we suspect the rhythms will stay mostly the same week in week out. Which will make for a pretty dull show considering its rather, um, explosive subject.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.