Judge Dawn Hunt's Client List includes The Easter Bunny, Santa, and anyone else willing to give her presents.
"If God wanted women to remain single he would have taught them how to use a hammer."
Facts of the Case
Riley (Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ghost Whisperer) and Kyle Parks (Brian Hallisay, Privileged) are married with two kids and a life many people can relate to. They've been out of work and money's getting tight. When we meet them they're disagreeing about how they spend money (he's complaining about being bought a birthday gift—quelle horreur!) and it seems like a night in a lot of homes. But the next day Riley comes back to a husband-less house. There's a note, but bottom line is she's alone with two kids. What's next?
The Client List: The Complete First Season is the story of what happens when a mom becomes the sole breadwinner and parent all at once. At first Riley tries to find a job, looking all over town but when that craps out, she's lucky enough to run into old friend Serena (Alicia Lagano, Dexter) who points her to Georgia (Loretta Devine, Grey's Anatomy), a woman who runs a spa about an hour outside of Riley's town. As luck would have it Riley is a trained massage therapist so it seems like she'll fit in just fine, and she does. But then she discovers sometimes there are certain services offered which pay more but are less than legal.
Riley resists committing to taking on members of "The Client List," a list Georgia has of men she's vetted who partake of the extras the women offer. After all it's not as if Riley's completely alone without help with her kids. Luckily she has Kyle's younger brother, Evan (Colin Egglesfield, Rizzoli and Isles), her own mom, Linette (Cybill Shepherd, Psych), and best friend, Lacey (Rebecca Field, Hawthorne).
But the bills keep piling up, and as time goes on it's clear Kyle isn't coming back anytime soon…if ever. So Riley caves and asks to begin taking on The Client List, and soon she's able to start getting control over everything. The Client List: The Complete First Season highlights Riley's struggle to keep both sides of her life separate and private.
This is the very definition of a guilty pleasure. Sadly The Client List: The Complete First Season falls into the same category as many other primetime soaps: it only works because everyone has secrets in a world in which no one can keep a secret or can resist digging for dirt on everyone else. If even one character minded their own business the show would collapse, no question about it. It also propagates the oft-seen idea that getting a new job means you're instantly a family with (most of) the people there.
But for this first season the rest of the salon workers are fairly one-note and can be described by their problem/secret: there's the New Age girl keeping her job from her fiancé, the older woman who only does straight-up massages and has a secret someone, Riley's frenemy who is conspiring against her and the spa in general, and the overly sexualized one. And while, yes, there is eye candy aplenty of both persuasions, it only highlights how very unbelievable this world is.
But more than any of that I worry The Client List: The Complete First Season has written itself into a corner, and not an original one either. All season sparks have been brewing between Riley and her brother-in-law Evan. But as the season ended it seems as though the show is going to have next season revolve around a "when-will-they?" push and pull, with the added ticking time bomb of Evan remaining unaware of Riley's other tip-earning activities.
Not to mention the central premise is a mother doing anything to provide for her kids. And yet she refuses to accept a loan from her best friend, refuses to sell her house and downgrade to something more manageable, refuses to consider moving in with her mother even, all of which would help.
The Client List: The Complete First Season has Riley's arc as one in which she listens to the men on her table, helping them with their problems. She feels good about that, good about helping people, but she insists she's not ashamed of her job even though she can't provide an answer for why she doesn't just share the truth with everyone in her life. Literally. Her best friend asks her that very question.
So how long can that play out? Riley knows what she's doing is illegal, in fact that very illegality provides a lot of the drama in the latter half of the season. Why isn't she continuing to look for another job? It doesn't make sense.
But what clicks for me are the performances, especially Cybill Shepherd and Loretta Devine. Both women are able to take what could be fairly one-note characters and really flesh them out. Shepherd is great as Riley's mom, able to show care for her child while also acting like a lovesick teenager. And Devine's Georgia is a treat. She comes across as kind of a cuddly mama bear until suddenly she turns on a dime and presents us with a calculated business woman who's smarter than we realized. The ability to portray someone with obvious hidden depths makes her one to watch in the new season, as she seems to be a lodestone for drama.
Jennifer Love Hewitt and Colin Eggelsfield have genuine chemistry as well, and the slow build is fun to watch, especially Egglesfield's reaction shots. I also enjoy Riley and Lacey's relationship and have to give kudos to Hewitt and Rebecca Field for being able to act together in such a way as to make their friendship truly appear grounded and well established.
Something else I appreciated about The Client List: The Complete First Season is the amount of deleted scenes and outtakes within the special features. The three discs each have a collection. Another feature is the ability to play the episodes with or without a recap beforehand, which is good if you watch them sporadically.
Although while I do appreciate spreading out the ten episodes over three discs, I have to wonder why the packaging is such that all three fit onto the same spindle? It seems like they will end up scratching quicker that way.
The video keeps up with currently broadcasting shows, for the most part. However the palette can have blown-out white levels at times. Otherwise the palette leans towards a rich golden hue, the better to highlight those oiled torsos, I imagine. No digital noise either, so that's a plus. The audio tracks are both Dolby 5.1, one in English and the other in Spanish. Most of it felt center-heavy to me aside from the occasional bar scenes where the other channels came into play a bit more. There are a surprising amount of subtitle options, five in all.
I know with shows like this you're not supposed to read into it and think too much, or at all, really. And I admit that's my flaw. It's easy to put this on and let it go while you do chores or the like. The lack of dialogue will clue you in to the parts where it's the skin show…the montage scenes of the scantily-clad masseurs and their naked clients. If back-stabbing, secret lives, unresolved sexual tension and abs that look airbrushed appeal to you, then by all means, put yourself on The Client List. The ridiculous season finale left me convinced I was done with it altogether, mainly because my repeated cries of "punch him!" went unanswered.
Guilty of soapy melodrama.
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