Review of "Masters of Sex" on Showtime From The TV MegaSite

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"Masters of Sex" review by Sundi 10/22/13
Sundays 10pm on Showtime

Word has just arrived that Showtime has picked up its hour-long period drama Masters of Sex for a full twelve episodes next season, and I for one could NOT be happier. This show is so beautifully wrought and so well written that it is poised to surpass the veteran Homeland  in the ratings. This show is a loosely adapted biography of the research team of Virginia Johnson and William Masters, who broke ground researching and experimenting with human sexuality in the 1950s. The real relationship between the two spanned decades and swung wildly between platonic, professional and romantic;  the show; however , despite its racy sex scenes, frank talk about sexuality, and open comment on sexual taboos, is reserved and methodical in its portrayal of the couple. It is precise in the characters’ development, making for an ensemble that smultifaceted dynamics weekly.

Lizzy Caplan plays Ginny Johnson, a woman beyond her own time and far too extraordinary for the oppressive gender politics of the 1950s. Ginny is a twice-divorced, mother-of-two, who must support herself and her children, while searching for self-fulfillment. She is sexually liberated, and feels no compulsion to seek a husband or remarry. In fact, the pilot episode explores a relationship between her and another doctor, Ethan Haas, that upturns the gender expectations of the day. Dr. Haas is smitten with Ginny (a plot point that follows the two well throughout the first half of the season), and she agrees to just be friends; although, for her that includes casual sex. Ethan pushes for more from Ginny and she rebuffs him over and over, which angers him to the point that he slaps her. She promptly returns the blow and in that moment we see a striking characterization of Ginny: independent, headstrong, clever, and with the capability to control the men in her life with her sheer charisma.

Ginny, however independent, seeks a secretarial job from Dr. Bill Masters, played by Michael Sheen, in which she will assist him in his study to discover how the human body reacts to sexual stimulation. To acquaint us with the study, and perhaps to desensitize us to the open discussion of such intimate matters, the writers have put in some really R-rated sex scenes. If you are even the least bit shy about, you should watch the first few episodes through your fingers, with one eye closed. It is enough to shock even the most worldly of viewers, so prepare yourself to see quite a bit of skin. This works to contrast how cold, aloof and socially awkward Bill is. He hires Ginny to assist him, but in his reserved, detached manner, the audience can tell he likes her. In the second episode, he matter-of-factly suggests they participate in the study together (as in: sleep together), but we can tell he is intrigued by her. In fact, ALL the men on this show are smitten with Ginny and most of the action happens when they are reacting to their feelings for her.

In the latest episode, “Thanks for Coming” we start to learn more about the background of the main characters through the introduction of Ginny’s ex-husband, deadbeat musician, George.  He sneaks into the study to earn extra cash, and Bill uses him (once he realizes who he is) to learn more about Ginny, particularly how to please her in bed.  Also, Bill’s mother arrives in this episode to visit with his pregnant wife, and through the mother character, Essie, we learn that Bill was abused at the hands of his father while his mother was a passive participant.

All in all, this show is one of the best on television right now. While it may seem like it needs the crutch of sex to make it work, it is really completely without gimmick. This show is character driven and is a well-rounded look at a group of people that are so multi-faceted and complexly drawn that your feelings toward them change from scene to scene. These are not flat, two-dimensional characters, generically drawn to support an hour long peep show. The depth of the writing and craft of the tone of Masters of Sex is going to make this show a classic.

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