Lifetime's "The Client List" (10 p.m. Sunday) offers a bizarrely syrupy take on a tawdry enterprise.
Jennifer Love Hewitt goes from Ghost Whisperer to John Whisperer in this silly series based on a 2010 cable movie. That film also starred Ms. Hewitt with Cybill Shepherd as her mother, but the characters in the TV series have different names -- but the same relationship. And the show has the same premise as the movie.
Ms. Hewitt stars as Riley, a woman who's devastated when her husband (Brian Hallisay) runs off after she lands a job as a massage therapist at a spa (called The Rub) in an effort to better their financial situation.
Riley soon learns that if she wants to make big money at the spa, she has to be willing to give "extras." At first she resists but, after a montage of unattractive male and elderly women clients, she gives in. Suddenly she's rolling in dough and all her clients are chiseled hunks. Because I'm sure that's how it works in real life.
"The Client List" plays hard-to-get about what exactly these "extras" are that Riley gives the guys. She's maybe-sorta a prostitute but the show's tone is light, frothy and downright sentimental when Riley gives emotional support to her male clients.
In one scene she wears a nightgown the client bought her, but most of the time in the premiere episode she's shown interacting with a massage client who just needs a good listener. Later she has a sob sister moment with the man's wife after the woman stalks Riley.
"In all my years, I've never known one of my girls to save a marriage," says Riley's boss, Georgia (Loretta Devine), who's more den mother than madam to Riley and her co-workers.
In next week's episode, dewy-eyed Riley tries to play cupid for a young oil-rig worker who misses the love of his life.
The show splits its time between what Riley does at work, which she attempts to keep secret from her family, and her life at home where her hairdresser mom and best friend Lacey (Rebecca Field) help Riley care for her children. Her kindly, hunky brother-in-law, Evan (Colin Egglesfield, "Melrose Place"), seems destined to be a future love interest. And there's the ongoing mystery of why Kyle abandoned Riley and her kids. Does he have a secret second family? Was he having an affair?
These mysteries pale compared to the real unanswered question: What exactly is Riley doing at that massage parlor for her good tips? It's a "Fifty Shades of Grey" world. Playing coy won't cut it.tvradio
TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.