In the second of a five-part series – here’s part one – James Milne signs up to watch Jennifer Love Hewitt’s cancelled borderline softcore porn series The Client List in its entirety. //
Kyle has returned.
It has confounded everything I have come to accept about this show, just as I was reaching something that might be called acceptance. I was beginning to digest the show’s various logics – to pull back my mask of irony and disdain and buy into the simple ebb and flow of relationships, the cycle of fall-out and reconcile, the absurdly dragged-out sexual tension between Evan and Riley – when this happened, blindsiding me just as the producers intended. A dramatic sucker-punch for a totally sucked-in sucker.
How did this happen? When I resumed viewing in episode six, I was feeling as jaded and resentful as I’d ever felt about the process of watching this show. Whatever novelty had existed for me in watching a soap opera was fast disappearing into a fog of directionless flirting, repetitious plotting and hokey heart-warming stuff between Riley and her kids. But somewhere between episodes six and nine, my heart rate slowed, my bile subsided, and I achieved peace with myself and with the show.
During all these episodes I had begun to muse about the function of shows that are targetted at a certain gender. I don’t think it would be a rash presumption that the creators and producers of this show were imagining a majority of viewers of The Client List to be female. If that is indeed the case, then what specific elements of the show might make it more appealing to women, and conversely, less appealing to men, and why should that be so?
Clearly, lingering glances of sculpted male anatomy are unlikely to win over heterosexual males, but why should strong mother-daughter relationships or female friendships have a nameless demographic majority of men reaching for their remotes? What are the atavistic instincts that these shows aim to trigger? Was I bored by the show because it’s aimed at feminine receptors or simply because it’s really bad? Soon, unexpectedly, this question became moot.
At the beginning of episode six, there appears to be “a bust on the horizon.” (I only quote this because I was mildly amused by the double entendre and the juxtaposition with JLH’s ever present décolletage) Spa boss Georgia takes “extras” off the spa menu, and thus the masseuses are stuck with – horror of horrors – having to massage, while the men who frequent the spa leave in some genital pain, presumably to go unburden themselves manually.
It’s played comically, though I’m starting to wonder about all sorts of social implications of this plot – less the infidelity aspect than the fact that trained massage therapists are depicted as not being able to make a decent wage and willingly entering into some form of low-level prostitution in order to live in any sort of comfort. Hidden amid the sly winks and sensual strokes of the massage table is the sad reality of modern capitalist society.
One result of the police’s interest in the spa is that the show becomes far less conspicuously titillating. Oiling of men’s pectorals is at an all-time low. This is some relief. The void is filled by genuine romance: the yearning kind provided by Evan and the more active pursuit of Riley carried out by Doctor Mark Flemming. He appeared in episode three, a fellow parent in a minor sub-plot involving Riley’s daughter Katie, and he was clearly far too attractive to not become involved with Riley. And thus he does. A pheromone-heavy playdate becomes a sexually-heated water pistol fight and, inevitably, one of those “we shouldn’t do this” kisses.
His pursuit of Riley acts in contrast to Evan’s consistent failure to express his true feelings. His brooding nobility is slowly mutating into self-defeating martyrdom and, while I think I’m supposed to be rooting for him, I’m actually getting increasingly keen to see Riley hook up with the sexy doctor. (Let me pause here, for I think I have identified the precise point at which I ceased to view this show through a critical lens and began to gawp credulously at my Macbook, drooling onto my pajamas.)
Evan gets increasingly bitter and starts dating Riley’s nemesis, Selena. “They deserve each other,” I think to myself with some passion. In episode nine, Riley finally starts to date the doctor but it doesn’t work out cos he’s kind of a snob and she’s just an honest, salt-of-the-earth working mom from Texas.
Finally, at the end of episode nine, there’s some action with Evan – a kiss, lingering and passionate, strands of saliva stretching from lip to lip like melted mozzarella. This is the moment when I’m at maximum buy-in, square-eyed, deep into a metaphorical box of popcorn. And then, and then… Kyle.
Episode Ten. Story by Jennifer Love Hewitt and Barbara Nance. Directed by Jennifer Love Hewitt. Clearly a labour of love (Hewitt) this episode features the return of the long-absent Kyle, played by Brian Hallisay, whom Love Hewitt was real-life dating by this point. (Love Hewitt, by the by, is a serial co-star dater.)
Throughout the episode, Kyle turns up repeatedly, uninvited, at the Parks family home, swanning around all damaged and beautiful. I am thinking; we (the audience, the whole darn world) are all thinking “he can’t just waltz back in like this”. Because Riley’s grown so much as a character, because finally after all the teasing, we can see some serious smooch action between her and Evan. But we can’t, because if one thing’s a total cock block, it’s a recently returned ex-husband/older brother of new love interest constantly arriving unannounced.
What on earth will happen? Will Evan’s stoic self-sacrifice pay huge dividends in the bedroom with sister-in-law Riley Parks, or will Kyle’s superior cheekbones win the day? Will The Rub Of Sugar Land survive police scrutiny, or will an increased minimum wage and the introduction of Obamacare render the illicit activities at the spa redundant? Will the masseuses keep giving handjobs anyway, just because they enjoy it? I look forward greatly to finding out next week. Until then, enjoy this racy teaser for Season Two on repeat.
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