March 10, 2013



THE CLIENT LIST:  Sunday 10PM on Lifetime

No one would include Lifetime’s THE CLIENT LIST on a short (or for that matter, lengthy) list of the highlights of our current remarkable era of cable television drama.  In almost every way, it’s a very standard, run-of-the-mill, unexceptional one-hour domestic piece, with a veteran network TV star, Jennifer Love Hewitt, as its lead.  But that very ordinariness is what makes it sort of remarkable:  Lifetime is a long, long way from the edginess of FX or HBO, and Hewitt exists in a different TV universe from Lena Dunham, and yet Client List is a completely mainstream hit in which the heroine is, in however limited a way, a sympathetically drawn prostitute.  (Apparently Hewitt’s Riley only gives hand jobs, although as manager/madam she tacitly approves of her colleagues providing a more varied menu.)  No one objects to the show, no one threatens boycotts of its advertisers, and it’s become the first genuine hit for Lifetime since Army Wives (for which it’s a companion piece) more than half a decade ago.

The second season premiere, written by Consulting Producer Natalie Chaidez (from a story by Executive Producer Ed Decter) and directed by Executive Producer Allan Arkush, picks up exactly where the season finale left us, with a small twist:  those cops who were closing in on Riley’s spa The Rub, lights flashing, weren’t there to arrest Riley or come down on The Rub, but rather were on the trail of Riley’s long-gone, suddenly-returned husband Kyle (Brian Hallisay), whose absence had led Riley to the money trouble that put her in the path of The Rub to begin with.  It turns out he’d stolen a truck full of copper wire before coming home, and he spends most of the episode behind bars, where he won’t take a plea-bargain because he won’t give up the name of his accomplice.  This is a dull plot, as are most of the Client List storylines, and thinking of which, Kyle’s return and predicament puts a wrench in the show’s major romantic arc, the very gradual romance between Riley and Kyle’s much nobler brother Evan (Colin Egglesfield), whose stalwart sense of honor and duty puts him just a limp away from being Bates on Downton Abbey.

A bit more interesting is the activity around The Rub (no pun intended).  Also returning from a vague absence is the spa’s owner Georgia (Loretta Devine), who’s decided she can’t continue to own the place and lie to her new boyfriend, so by the episode’s end she’s decided to sell to Riley, who will apparently be taking on a business in law enforcement cross-hairs.  (Those worries about police crackdown weren’t so much wrong as a little ahead of the curve.)  Meanwhile, though, Riley is thriving at being part of management, bringing in new clients and working out her “don’t ask, don’t tell” arrangement with her girls, most prominently Selena (Alicia Lagano).

There’s no great drama in The Client List, and not a lot of memorable acting–you can practically feel the whole show creak whenever it asks us to get interested in Riley’s mother Linette (Cybill Shepherd) and the hair salon where she works, or Riley’s children, who seem to have wandered in from a cereal commercial.  At its best, though, List is a breezy guilty pleasure that features an engaging star who happens to run an informal brothel, albeit one with no more overt sexuality than Hewitt’s admirable cleavage and Lifetime’s viewership will allow (although tonight’s episode dared a “pearl necklace” gag that pushed its envelope a bit).  If the show can dispose of Riley’s tiresome husband quickly, it seems likely to continue its unlikely success with the Army Wives audience.

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."