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Checking off Jennifer Love-Hewitt’s ‘The Client List’: Week One

In the first of a five-part series, James Milne signs up to watch Jennifer Love Hewitt’s cancelled borderline softcore porn series The Client List in its entirety. //

During her pregnancy, my girlfriend spent a lot of time in bed watching a show called Revenge. I never watched the show actively, but from my spot next to her in the Queen-size I kept hearing the most extraordinary dialogue. The show was absolutely not the kind of thing I’d usually watch, but I had to give its artfully melodramatic script credit for delivering ear-catching zingers of the highest order. I’d thought about diarising the experience of watching the whole series, but was too daunted by the prospect of watching 88 episodes of – and then writing a detailed critical report on – something from which I might be simply enjoying with an ironic distance.

When The Spinoff offered me the chance to do some writing I immediately recalled this idea, but I thought instead to find something from Lightbox’s offerings that might offer a similar experience but taking far less effort and time. The series I found? The Client List. Two series, totaling 25 episodes, recently cancelled – an eminently achievable task. I would approach it with an open heart and a critical eye. It would surely be a cinch.

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Week One:

What has Jennifer Love Hewitt been doing for the past 15 years? For people under, say, 18 years of age the more pertinent question might be: “who is Jennifer Love Hewitt?” In the late ’90s and in the immediate aftermath of the Y2K plague that nearly ended life on earth as we know it, she was ubiquitous. What New Radicals’ ‘You Get What You Give’ was to  radio, Love Hewitt was to television. She was a Phenomenon. But stars burn brightest before they go supernova and, much like the New Radicals, Love Hewitt exploded in 2001, leaving countless trillions of atomic particles cooling in the terrible emptiness of space.

Which makes it all the more surprising to find Jennifer Love Hewitt starring in The Client List. The series is a comic-drama about a young Texan mother called Riley Park, who finds herself supporting two kids on her own after her husband leaves suddenly. So far, so generic, but the twist here (and there’s always a twist these days) is that her new job is at a day spa called “The Rub Of Sugar Land” where the massage therapists provide additional intimate services to an exclusive list of male clients.The evocation of the mythical “happy ending” prompted a protest from the American Massage Therapy Association and an online petition signed by thousands of massage therapists and their scandalised parents.

Riley

The show is clearly aiming to be Love Hewitt’s Cougartown moment – racy, tongue-in-cheek entertainment, affirming her still potent sexuality in the face of crow’s feet and a greatly diminished celebrity currency (if not total supernova). Quickly, in fact immediately, The Client List reveals its titillating elements with an absurdly buff gentleman flexing his pectoral muscles on a massage table – his lower half, presumably shaved balls and all, covered with a sheet. Love Hewitt’s as-yet unnamed character nervously dresses behind a kinkily frosted glass screen. As the show progresses, I will find myself looking to the thesaurus for synonyms for “hunk”.

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And so my journey begins. At a birthday party in an autumnal Texan backyard, we meet Riley (Love Hewitt), her husband Kyle. Their sweet and wholesome young kids, Travis and Katie, are playing football with Kyle’s brother Evan, Riley’s mother Lynette, and Riley’s best friend Lacey. It quickly transpires that all is not well with Riley and Kyle. “What the hell were we thinking remodeling this kitchen?” broods Kyle, who is daytime soap-handsome with incredibly neat facial hair. They have money problems. Kyle is drawing a disability cheque, which I presumed, probably erroneously, was from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.


Lightbox users, add The Client List to your client list by clicking here

Everyone else, join James on his journey by clicking here to start your free trial (12 months for Spark customers, 30 days for everyone else)


The bank wants to repossess their house. Kyle, who is quickly proving himself to be quite the dick, exclaims dickishly: “it’s just not exactly where I expected to be at 33.” Riley, patient and serene, the perfect American Wife, quells the impetuous Kyle, “you and me we’re going to get through this, together… because we love each other and that’s all that matters.” Then, seemingly without warning, they’re making love on the kitchen bench. Just two young Americans with immaculate bods trying to get ahead in the world.

Despite this brief and somewhat inappropriate rapprochement, the surly Kyle soon disappears and Riley finds herself having to support her family on her own. The eponymous client list at the day spa soon provides the additional income she requires – and then some – with, of course, its fair share of complications and embarrassments along the way. It is important to note that the men on the client list are, almost without exception, extraordinarily chiseled specimens.

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As I suffer through scene after slow motion scene of Riley Park oiling men’s tanned, muscular breasts, running her fingers longingly across the undulations of some implausibly spunky gent’s abdomen and upper pubic region, I think of the patriarchy. I wonder if I am paying some small penance for man’s appalling domination of women over the millennia and, if not, then why on earth am I watching this?

Five episodes in, let me note some brief thoughts about the plot, and other general feelings and responses to what has been, at times, a soul-searching experience.

1) I believe the character of Riley Park to be an idealised version of the real Jennifer Love Hewitt, either influenced narcissistically by Love Hewitt (who takes an Executive Producer credit on the show) or scripted by someone who is in love with her. Other characters are constantly referring to how attractive or able she is. For example, in episode four, Evan’s boss asks him if he is “tapping that” and then says: “I wouldn’t let a woman like that get by – even if she was my brother’s wife”. In episode three, as Evan pulls a roast out of the oven, he fawns: “this smells amazing Riley. How do you manage to pull this together working as much as you do?” This kind of expository and aggrandising dialogue happens all the time.

2) Kyle’s brother Evan is nursing a massive boner for Riley, despite how potentially dishonourable the scenario is, and Riley is really not helping by flirting outrageously with him almost constantly. Evan is gentle, loves Riley’s kids and has a really nicely toned and well-proportioned torso which he shows off during a topless lawn-mowing scene in Episode One.

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3) I think women are meant to masturbate to this!

4) Adding fuel to my earlier suspicions that this show is a powerful feminist corrective – at the beginning of episode five, Riley grabs a client’s penis without consent, if accidentally, which could by most legal statutes be construed as an act of sexual assault. Instead of pressing charges, the client, who turns out to be so handsome I found myself weeping, with my duvet clutched to my pounding chest, asks Riley out on a date. Could The Client List be an important piece of satirical agitprop slipping through under the guise of soft-pornography?

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5) My emotion at having to watch another twenty episodes of this could be described as a combination of dread and self-loathing. But I take strength from Riley Park, who has triumphed through difficult circumstances and smiled through gritted teeth as she performed a task most would baulk at in order to provide for her family.

Lightbox users, add The Client List to your client list by clicking here

Everyone else, join James on his journey by clicking here to start your free trial (12 months for Spark customers, 30 days for everyone else)