June 17, 2013



There’s something inherently fascinating about the contortions that Lifetime, one of the squarest of cable networks, has to go through to balance the titillation factor of its hit series THE CLIENT LIST with what it seems to feel is a necessary moral counterweight.  This reached a peak in the most ludicrous episodes of the series, which arrived midway during Season 2, when housewife, heroine and happy-ending masseuse Riley Parks (Jennifer Love Hewitt) decided to “cross the line,” and have actual intercourse with one of her clients.  This arc was staged as though Riley were joining the sex club in Eyes Wide Shut, with the fabulously wealthy client (played by Josh Hopkins of Cougar Town) paying her $50,000 and doing the deed in a swank hotel suite he seemed to have rented from Robert Redford’s Indecent Proposal character, leaving Riley well paid but in a state of virtual nervous breakdown for the next several episodes.  Characters on other cable shows have murdered people with considerably less frenzied guilt.

It’s unclear why Client List felt the need to go down this road at all, since the incident didn’t have any repercussions in the rest of the season–Riley didn’t find herself unexpectedly pregnant, or confronted with the client later on, or approached by other men who wanted the same treatment–but luckily, it was the season’s low ebb.  Apart from that awful lapse, the series made some housekeeping changes, but mostly stayed the same tawdry but occasionally guilty pleasure that it had been last season.

Showrunners Ed Decter and John Strauss introduced an aspirational element to the show–rather than merely toiling at The Rub to make ends meet due to the disappearance of husband Kyle (Brian Halisay), Riley actually purchased the spa from previous owner Georgia (Loretta Devine), who wanted to get out because she was entering into a respectable marriage, but who’s remained a silent partner nevertheless.  Kyle returned, and over the course of the season worked his way back into Riley’s affections, which brought to an end the main romantic story of Season 1, the growing infatuation between Riley and brother-in-law Evan (Colin Egglesfield), who in Season 2 not only became a cop, but inevitably one investigating massage parlors.  Several of last year’s girls quietly exited, and Riley’s mom Lynette (Cybil Shepherd) was relegated to rehab and occasional appearances only (and will apparently be even less involved next season, as she’s leaving town).  Thankfully, the show also cut down on the episodes where Riley solved the love-life crises of her clients in between relieving their tension.  Another good move was giving loud-mouth Rub employee Selina (Alicia Lagano) a major subplot of her own, getting her involved with new male masseuse Derek (Rob Mayes); their rom-com pairing was one of the highlights of the season.  Also new was Nikki (Laura-Leigh), a seemingly naive ex-stripper who, in the season’s big twist, turned out to be working for all-around bad guy Carlyle (Johnathan Schaech) and, on his behalf, was after the Client List itself.

The 2-hour season finale (Hour 1 written by Co-Producer Nikki Schliefelbein and directed by Hewitt; Hour 2 written by Executive Producer Michael Reisz from a story by Decter and directed by Allan Arkush) advanced most of the season’s major storylines.  Riley, Georgia and Nikki launched a ridiculous scam to regain control of the List that involved Georgia pretending to be a crooked cop for the benefit of Carlyle’s numbskull second in command, while Riley donned a wig to take part in stripper auditions, broke into Carlyle’s safe and then set The Rub on fire.  This will all play out in Season 3 (it’s not even clear if Carlyle and/or Nikki are still alive), since Riley’s pole-dance was caught on police surveillance video, and Shelby (T.V. Carpio), who was Evan’s rebound girlfriend until she had a chance at promotion, whereupon she dumped him in 30 seconds flat, now works for Internal Affairs.  Meanwhile, in heartwarming land, Riley’s BFF Lacey (Rebecca Field) and equally lovable husband Dale (Greg Grunberg) finally adopted a son, and by the end of the episode, Lacey had already forgiven Riley for unintentionally putting Lacey in harm”s way from Carlyle’s henchman, which caused her to have a miscarriage earlier in the season.

The Client List certainly isn’t quality television, but like Hewitt’s performance, at its best it has a certain scrappy B-movie verve, like the back-half of a 1950s Hollywood double feature.  It’s completely happy with being no more than superficial melodrama, and the idiotic Indecent Proposal episodes aside, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  The ratings had already slipped toward the end of last season from over a 1.0 in 18-49s to around 0.8, and they’ve dipped slightly more this season to the 0.7 area (lead-in Army Wives has gone similarly down), still a success by Lifetime standards.  Despite the fire, some version of The Rub will no doubt be back in business next year, and Lifetime will settle down to its job of making Riley’s brand of genteel prostitution acceptable to its female audience of a certain age.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."