“The Client List” Lifetime’s bizarre sex fantasy

In "The Client List," Jennifer Love Hewitt plays a mom who gives happy endings. Realistic, no. Hilarious, yes!

Topics: TV, the client list,

"The Client List" Lifetime's bizarre sex fantasyJennifer Love Hewitt in "The Client List"

A little over a year ago, Jennifer Love Hewitt starred in a Lifetime movie called ‘The Client List,” about a good Texan woman who starts giving happy endings at a massage parlor to support her family. The movie was exactly what one hopes for in a Lifetime film: melodramatic, campy, ridiculous. In addition to the basic premise, Hewitt’s character developed a coke problem and eventually turned her entire client list into the police.

As of last week, this movie was turned into a TV show that airs on Sunday nights, with Hewitt once again playing a good Texan woman who starts giving happy endings at a massage parlor to support her family. Not since “The Best Little Whore House in Texas” has prostitution seemed like such an innocent, harmless, good-time profession. The show is ludicrous, nonsensical, dopey and pretty fun — so, basically the perfect sort of TV show to be airing on Lifetime, an environment in which getting worked up about a show’s fantastic, preposterous sexual politics is to humorlessly miss the point.

Love Hewitt plays Riley, a married mother of two and masseuse who takes a job at a spa in the city of Sugar Land, Texas, to help her unemployed husband with the pressing mortgage. Her first day on the job, she is horrified when a well-muscled client explains that he would like an “extra,” and spends the next few weeks trying to make enough money without selling sex. Then her husband leaves her— but not before they do it on the kitchen table while the children and her mother (Cybill Shepherd!) are in the yard right outside — and Riley puts aside her moral objections in order to care for her children.

Did you know that the people who come in for regular massages are rude women who listen to their iPods, men with hair all over their backs and sneezing guys with bad colds, while the men who pay for hand jobs are young, have six-pack abs and no body hair whatsoever? Also, did you know that most men paying for handies really just want to talk and be listened to, maybe while being gently caressed? Well, thanks to “The Client List,” now you do! As soon as Riley gives up regular massages, her clientele gets both seriously hunky and seriously emo, and start giving her generous enough tips to help pay that mortgage.

You Might Also Like

Sure, there are downsides to Riley’s new gig. An angry woman writes “Whore” on the side of Riley’s car and she and her pimp — oh, excuse me, the very nice, conscientious, maternal single mother who runs the spa — can’t scrub it off. But when the wife (played by Mimi Rogers!) shows up at Riley’s house, Riley can honestly swear that all she’s been doing with the woman’s husband is delivering the talking cure. Because she’s been listening so hard, she even helps the pair save their marriage.

It’s all going to get a lot more complicated for Riley, especially when she starts sleeping with her husband’s brother, an eventuality telegraphed in the first episode, but it’s probably never going to get that serious. The Lifetime movie, of which this serialized “The Client List” is just to be an extended version, may be the most self-aware format in all of television. By putting such campy high-gloss on sex work, it’s not trying to pull a fast one on its audience (“Did you know, prostitution is really fun???”), it’s just trying to give it what it wants. Just as Riley doesn’t want to remind her johns of the sordid side of her business, Lifetime doesn’t want to remind its audience either — at least not until things get so completely sordid that Riley’s blown all her money on coke, lost the house and her kids, and hit rock bottom, which is a whole other kind of Lifetime movie good time.

Willa Paskin
Willa Paskin is Salon's staff TV writer.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>