Recognizing a good thing when they saw one, Lifetime and Sony have shrewdly adapted their 2010 TV movie “The Client List” — a fact-based satire about a Texas mom (played by Jennifer Love Hewitt) who began turning tricks to make ends meet — into a deliciously trashy, campy series. Most of the changes are designed to make women share in the fantasy, while billboards of Hewitt in lingerie might be enough to entice even a few men to watch. Either way, the first two episodes suggest Lifetime has stumbled onto a winner, destined to rub its core audience the right way.
Instead of picking up where the movie left off, the series essentially starts over, using the basic idea as a template but taking off in several very shrewdly calculated directions, designed to either make Hewitt’s character, Riley, more sympathetic, or (better yet) help shape the mom-turned-hooker plot into something a bit more palatable.
So Hewitt’s character (the names, incidentally, have been changed from the movie) is once again a harried mother worried about the mortgage, with a husband who’s out of work. She takes a job at a massage facility, only to discover there’s a way to make extra money, fast, by providing “extras.”
Alas, Riley’s challenges don’t stop there. Hubby disappears, leaving her as the sole bread winner, with an additional mystery regarding where he’s gone. Meanwhile, her support system includes his dreamy brother (Colin Egglesfield) and her blowsy mom (Cybill Shepherd, reprising her role), who takes offense when Riley mentions her five marriages, protesting one of them shouldn’t count, since she tied the knot with one of her husbands twice.
Nobody will confuse the scripting (Jordan Budde wrote and developed the pilot, while Suzanne Martin, who did the movie, receives “created by” credit) with subtlety; rather, the dialogue offers a litany of naughty puns, such as Riley’s manager (Loretta Devine) brightly saying to her naive new employee, “This job is all about flexibility.”
Beyond that, Riley spends a lot of time counseling her clients — providing helpful, homespun marital advice to stroke them emotionally, not just physically. In addition, all the customers look like they stumbled out of Calvin Klein ads, blessed with glimmering six-pack abs. It brings to mind an old joke about a woman asked if she’d have sex with Robert Redford for money who replies yes, but says she’ll need time to raise the cash.
For all that, “Client List” is generally quite fun, whether one chooses to laugh with or at it. Much of that is thanks to Hewitt, who manages to be somewhat relatable — no small feat with that body, in those outfits, on billboards everywhere.
In a way, the show should be viewed through the gauzy screen Riley dresses behind — something that obscures the particulars, thus hiding the flaws. “The Client List” should deliver in something that hasn’t always been on the menu for Lifetime dramas: A happy ending.