Ten years ago, perky actress Jennifer Love Hewitt tried to jump-start a music career with a song titled "Bare Naked." Now she's trying that attention-grabbing tactic again with a sleazy new Lifetime series called "The Client List." She plays a massage therapist who turns tricks.
That network has adopted a new slogan: "This is not your mother's Lifetime." That's appropriate for a new drama with a single-mother whore at its sympathetic center. We learn she was forced into being a sex worker when her husband mysteriously left her -- you know, the way of the world for single moms.
Hewitt first made "The Client List" as a TV-movie in which the sex worker ultimately learned the error of her ways. Not any more. It's now a weekly series with no storyline of error and redemption in sight.
After tremendous hype, its debut -- on Easter Sunday, no less -- scored 2.8 million viewers, second only to the 2007 launch of Lifetime's show "Army Wives."
Slate.com's review of it is titled "Ultra-Soft Porn." On the show's Facebook page, it asks women to "rate the clients" to see which john is the most attractive. You can rate them "Dud or Stud" and enter to win a $5,000 prize. Somehow, all of Hewitt's TV clients could double as models -- another dose of nonreality.
Speaking of which, the group Licensed Massage Therapists is very upset at how their profession is being merged with prostitution weekly in the public mind. But Hewitt protests that her show only projects "reality."
"At the end of the day, it's a television series," she argues. "I'm not saying every massage parlor in the world gives happy endings, nor do I know which ones do, but it is a part of our society. And even if it wasn't, it's just a part of our story. It's entertainment."
When that line of argument collapses, she claims her sex-worker character is just too lovable to protest.
"I tried to make a joke on Twitter that I wondered why people were not writing to 'Dexter' about killing people, or to 'Nurse Jackie' about taking drugs on the job. Those are big, big television characters audiences love and adore ... so if there can be a serial killer we all like, I feel like a happy-endings specialist is the least of our worries."
Doesn't that quote sum up just about everything that's wrong with our popular culture these days? Are viewers expected to adore serial killers, drug-abusing, adulterous nurses, and prostitutes disguised as massage therapists?
But Hewitt isn't done whining. When she starred on "The Ghost Whisperer" on CBS, she said, "No medium ever complained that I was playing a medium who had too much cleavage. In fact, they were all like, 'Thank you so much!' I mean, I constantly had cleavage up to my chin, and not one medium had a problem with it. They were like, 'People think we're hot!' Now if massage therapists could just feel the same."
Like most people in Hollywood, Hewitt wants to push the envelope in what she calls a "provocative, unapologetic manner" to make her millions. Then she demands that no one ever protest that she's making prostitution look glamorous and morally acceptable.
Hewitt wants to avoid being "judgmental" about prostitutes. "It's an easy industry to have a judgment on, but I feel like that judgment comes from lack of knowledge and fear and maybe not knowing the whole story."
So Dr. Hewitt is offering an educational "whole story" on her program? Even worse, Hewitt wants to declare that prostitution is OK with her. "I respect people doing what they have to do in order to try to live and be happy." This woman has the brain of a text message. 'K?
But what if the prostitute is helping wreck a marriage and a home? No problemo. Reviewer Brian Lowry at Variety explains how Hewitt's character Riley gets softened around the edges. She "spends a lot of time counseling her clients -- providing helpful, homespun marital advice to stroke them emotionally, not just physically."
Cheat with the husband, and then tell him to buy the wife flowers. Love is never having to say you're faithful.
None of this has anything to do with reality. Lifetime based its TV movie and subsequent series on an Odessa, Texas, massage parlor called "Healing Touch." But the real story ended up with 68 arrested clients -- including an assistant district attorney, a city planner, the owner of an insurance company, several teachers, and a well-known rancher. Two of the three sex workers there were strung out on cocaine.
It wasn't the glamorous life you can fictionalize on TV. Ironically, that reality is too "edgy" for the envelope-pushers. It might cause someone to become -- perish the thought -- "judgmental."