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'The Client List': An Unexpectedly Guilt-Free Pleasure

Apr 09, 2012 | 4:22am EDT

ALTThe Client List, Jennifer Love Hewitt's new Lifetime drama, makes no attempt to hide what it is. The words "guilty pleasure" actually appeared on screen in an ad that aired seconds before the start of last night's season premiere. However, for a show based on a Lifetime original movie about a mom turned prostitute, it was actually surprisingly decent. The reimagined Client List aims to be a folksier version of The Good Wife, and while it certainly won't be nominated for any Emmys, no one in the cast embarassed themselves in April 8's episode (which is certainly more than you can say for Smash, TV's last guilty pleasure offering).

Hewitt's role has been cleaned up considerably since she appeared in the 2010 TV movie. In the series, she stars as Riley Parks, a Texas mother of two young children. The series starts with a shot of a bare-torsoed dude lying down on a massage table as Riley nervously slips into lingerie behind a screen. Then we flash back to one month earlier, before Riley's life of happy ending debauchery began. At a backyard birthday party for her husband Kyle, she presents a gift ostensibly from the kids: an expensive leather jacket. Annoyed, Kyle asks Riley to speak with him inside. (Important side note: Hewitt has an entertaining Texan accent, and wears a midriff-baring top and low-slung jeans to the party. In other words, typical suburban mother of two attire.) Kyle reminds Riley that they're both out of work and can barely make ends meet. They bicker about money some more, and then just in case there are any concerns that the show won't be trashy enough, they start passionately making out on top of the kitchen table. Apparently they forgot that the kids, Riley's mother (Cybill Shepherd) and Kyle hotter younger brother (Colin Egglesfield) are all on the patio waiting to finish opening gifts.

While headed to a job interview, Riley runs into her old friend Selena. As Selena steps into a red sports car, she tells Riley that the spa she works at is hiring and gives her a business card. Riley shows up later with her masseuse resume in hand, but the owner, Georgia, takes one look at her and hires her on the spot. Riley doesn't suspect that there's anything unusual about the massage parlor, though co-workers keep making innuendo-laden comments like, "The tips are great. The harder I work the bigger they get," and "Don't worry honey, this job is all about flexibility."

Riley meets the other women who work at the salon, including Jolene (a.k.a. Toby's ex-wife from The West Wing) and Kendra (a.k.a. Lane's Playboy Bunny girlfriend from Mad Men). She gets to work on her first client, a young, hot oil company employee, who tells her his "hips and legs are a little tight." He grabs her butt as she's leaning over him, and she slaps his hand away, saying, "That's not on the menu!" He explains nicely, "The girls that don't give extras don't really do well here," but she pulls off his sheet and storms out of the room.

After a commercial break, Riley confronts Georgia and says what we're all thinking: "You didn't think it was important to tell me that the guys who come here expect extras?" Georgia says she assumed someone told Riley, and explains that 90% of the business is legitimate, but there's a small client list (chug your drink!) of guys who want more. Riley makes it clear that she has a loving husband and two kids at home and is simply not that kind of girl.

Cut to Riley returning home to find her house empty and immediately freaking out, since apparently Kyle never goes on jaunts to Home Depot. As it turns out, her instincts are right. She finds a note from the poor man's Keanu Reeves on the kitchen table and collapses on the floor weeping.

Back at the spa Riley learns via montage that giving massages is hard work! Some people are old, gross, and/or hairy and they don't tip very well. She caves and tells Georgia to get her one of the guys on the list. Now we've caught up to the first shot of the episode, and Riley is wearing a negligee and inching her hand up her client's leg. They have a flirty conversation and she tells him, "This is just not what I expected." It really isn't what anyone would expect dudes who pay for sexual favors from masseuses to look like. Each guy is more blindingly beautiful than the last and the episode averages about one chisled man torso every four minutes.

Her one somewhat less attractive client is a middle-aged man named Jared. She realizes he really just needs someone to talk to, and offers some advice on how he can reconcile with his wife (plus a "groin massage"). It seems that in the TV show Hewitt's character only lets her hands stray into intimate areas, while in the original she had sex with her clients.

Riley is finally able to make her mortgage payment, but her family is growing suspicious. Evan, the aforementioned hot brother-in-law, has taken to helping out around the house in Kyle's absence (while shirtless, natch). He stumbles in drunk one night and accuses Riley of having a sugar daddy. She's insulted and tells him to get out.

Riley becomes even more torn about her new line of work when someone writes "WHORE" on her car. Later she finds the culprit, Jared's wife Valerie, waiting outside her house. Rather than running in her house and calling the cops, she confronts her and winds up sharing some tips on how she can repair her marriage.

Later Evan walks in on Riley while she's changing her clothes for her kids' talent show. (Certainly it's the first and last of their romantic misunderstandings!) He apologizes, and after running into her boss Georgia at the show, Riley tells her she intends to stick with the job. Or as she puts it, "I may not have been able to save my marriage, but I'm going to save my family." Finally, after putting the kids to bed the phone rings, and it's her husband Kyle on the other end... dun, dun, dun.

Surprisingly, the worst thing about The Client List is it's time slot. There are already too many great shows on Sunday nights, and The Client List shouldn't be competing with the likes of Mad Men and Game of Thrones. This is a weeknight, unwind with a glass of pinot grigio after putting the kids to bed type of show. But, that's why they invented DVRs.


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