TV Review: Masters of Sex, Series Premiere

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Sex is a very difficult subject to broach in media. There’s a fine line between informative and crude, sexy and tasteless. And everyone has their own view of where that line is. Despite our culture being obsessed with sex, the way we feel about sex and what’s acceptable to each of us is a very individual, personal experience.

Photo: Erwin Olaf/SHOWTIME
Photo: Erwin Olaf/SHOWTIME

And yet, Masters of Sex is able to walk this line with a rare finesse. The show focuses on Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan), who partnered up in the 1950s to conduct the world’s first study into what the human body actually experiences during sexual intercourse. There’s even a fine line in what is considered smut and what’s considered science, as Masters was told by countless people that his work was a disgusting, filthy experiment. But he is able to get the ball rolling, using his reputation as an OBGYN.

Master of Sex has a lot going for it: fascinating material, interesting characters and relationships, good drama, and an innate sensuality. For a show about a clinical sex study, they have managed to make the tone incredibly sexy.

The sex scenes aren’t gratuitous or out of place, and they’re very organic despite being part of a study. But I think one of the biggest reasons Masters of Sex thrives in its sensuality is the dual perspective. Masters paired up with Virginia Johnson because he needed a female perspective to really understand the full scope of his findings. Having both of them as main characters, conducting the study together creates a very healthy attitude in the narrative of Masters of Sex.

I do have one problem with the pilot, which is definitely a personal qualm. It takes us from the day Johnson and Masters meet, to the beginning of their legal study. Along the way, they have developed a professional relationship wrought with complications interesting layers. And yet, we don’t get to see that development. What goes on in the first episode could have taken an entire season to unfold.

Photo Credit: Showtime
Photo Credit: Showtime

I completely understand that it’s just not where they were going with the show. But Masters and Johnson are both such complex, different characters that I feel fleshing out that period where they were really getting to know one another might be intensely satisfying. I’m a character development junkie, what can I tell ya?

At any rate, I think this was a solid pilot, and I look forward to seeing what Masters of Sex has to offer us in the future. Plus, anything that puts Lizzy Caplan on my TV screen weekly will always be a winner in my book.

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