In "The Client List," Jennifer Love Hewitt plays a mom who gives happy endings. Realistic, no. Hilarious, yes!
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.
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 is Salon's staff TV writer. More Willa Paskin.
More Related Stories
- How Dan Savage lost it
- Nancy Jo Sales on L.A. celeb robbers: "The Bling Ring kids were depressed"
- “Arrested Development,” hurry up and get here so you can stop being so annoying
- Must-do's: What we like this week
- Josh Ritter makes his "Blood on the Tracks"
- I don't hate millennials anymore!
- What's 2013's "Gone Girl"? Here are this summer's best reads
- Fox executive behind "Does Someone Have to Go?" leaving the network
- Hillary Clinton memoir shows up on Amazon
- A brief history of Jennifer Weiner's literary fights
- First look: Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard shine in "The Immigrant”
- No women allowed: Summer music festivals are dudefests, again
- Vivica A. Fox tapes anti-gun PSA in front of poster for her movie
- This is what Guy Fieri looks like as a balloon
- Mariah Carey's rambling, cursing, dress-popping "Good Morning America" concert
- Fox's new reality TV show threatens regular people with unemployment
- Amanda Bynes arrested after hurling bong from window
- Steamy lesbian-sex movie has Cannes abuzz
- Stop what you're doing and go watch "Borgen"
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- Mike Judge: "Bowling for Columbine" made me pro-gun
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11