I am a seeker of joy. I yearn to transcend society’s material concerns; to live a life strange and pure and full of found wisdoms that I will not decipher until the moment of my death; to leap into the chilly waterfalls of epiphany without considering my step; to harness abilities which I cannot understand to create things of which I never could have dreamed. Everywhere my life takes me I seek this sublime joy. Will I find it in season two, episodes one to five, of The Client List?
To centre my spirit on this quest, as episode one begins, I call upon the words of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, as paraphrased by John Lennon: “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.” I let all earthly thoughts recede into a blackness that is terrifying yet womblike as I wait for a barely perceptible second or two while the show buffers.
The images hit me unfiltered by the cognitive organisation of my left brain, leaving pure impulses. What I am viewing here is a beautiful woman/energy force who radiates love and generosity towards all her fellow beings; who attracts such adoration that it is scarcely credible that she exists. Around her, in orbit, heavenly bodies are floating in televisual dark matter (or “dross”), held to her by the bonds of unthinking admiration that they all emit, such is the power of her own emanations.
This imagery is so overwhelming, so far from my own recognisable reality, that my mind turns automatically back on and I cease to float downstream, for reasons of my own sanity. As my consciousness returns, the episode is still playing on my laptop; things seem normal and mundane; all is well with the world.
But all is not well in the world of Riley Parks. Kyle, back from his self-imposed exile, has been arrested for ripping off some copper wire from an old employer. He’s stuck in Harris County Jail, with Riley having to re-finance their home to pay for a decent defence attorney and the bail, which ends up being denied anyway. The situation is challenging to say the least, but, despite her anger in person, Riley, in her actions, continues to stand by her man. Her nobility in this cause, and desire to keep her children protected from the truth about their deadbeat father, is hugely frustrating.
The romance between her and Evan, finally just budding on the vine at the end of season one, is seriously hampered by Kyle’s return, Riley receiving seemingly constant poorly-timed calls from the county jail just when they’re about to make out. Riley assures Evan that they’re “in a good place,” but the sexual tension has clearly ebbed out of the situation and my blobbed-out uncritical self is kind of deflated about this.
I have written in my notes in large all-caps the word “ADOLESCENCE”. Something about the Evan situation, where he’s so in love with Riley but so out of control of what’s happening in their relationship and so beholden to her whims, reminds me of a teenaged heartbreak of my own. This was a heartbreak engendered by my own inexperience, and Evan too seems to act in a way that is naive and adolescent.
My thought about the concept of adolescence spreads to my perceptions of the whole show. The Client List can be viewed as a series of fantasies created by and/or for the adolescent mind. The fantasy of a woman wanting a handsome man to fight with his fists to win her love; of the star quarterback marrying the high school beauty queen; of a totally dysfunctional marriage being worth saving “for the sake of the children”; of it being ethically acceptable (and totally hot) to have sexual relations with a college professor, or a licensed massage therapist.
The show makes plays at realism too, which my adolescent self could maybe have bought – my jaded older self less so. A military veteran with untreated Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder flips out in the spa and is brought back down by Derek, the hunky new masseur at The Rub, who happens to have done three tours in Afghanistan. (I knew Afghanistan would crop up!) Riley’s mother Linette has a car accident and her health insurance has lapsed due to changes in conditions at the hair salon where she works, leaving her with considerable medical bills.
The Client List’s noble yet ultimately stillborn attempts to inject these kind of real issues into the plot of the show only serve to highlight that the bones of the show are pure fantasy. Adolescence too is built on fantasy. The fantasy of being someone else, someone older, someone attractive to the people you’re attracted to. Lurid sexual fantasies, absurd megalomaniacal fantasies of future glories, fantasies of smiting one’s nemeses with a brutal punch to the face. The Client List embodies these kinds of fantasies in a way that must fulfill a profound need for some people. Right now in my life, I don’t think I have that need.
So what am I left with? Well, mainly a plot that is developing at an agonisingly slow pace, with characters (esp. Riley and Evan) that constantly repeat the same mistakes and actions, retreading old territory, failing to make any necessary developments that would progress the series in a way that is exciting for the viewer.
Television writers have the awesome power to send their characters on journeys unthinkable to real people, and have them develop in ways that can be confounding, unexpected or inspiring. When the writers of The Client List put Riley Park into that naughty spa, it was an unlikely scenario that could have led to unimaginably bizarre and thrilling destinations. But the character of Riley Park is so hamstrung by her Texan wholesomeness and abiding Christian morality that really nothing truly stunning can happen to her. She and her fictional friends move inevitably along the railway lines of fate to the show’s inevitable cancellation.
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