SHOWTIME’s Masters of Sex is a fascinating new show based on the true story of Masters & Johnson. Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan deliver two characters audiences can invest in. One troubled and the other naive. The supporting cast is a little week and could use some rounding out, but that will come with time.
Tons of potential coming out of the first two episodes. They set the right tone, style and narrative framework. The pilot is beautifully crafted and directed pilot by John Madden. It’s well written and subtle — save a few dialogue clinks and clanks. Surprisingly restrained, disciplined and non-exploitative (or marginally so). Emotionally resonant. It takes a socio-politically salient POV right off the bat as well, signalling a show responsible to its period, setting and the context in which it’s telling its story. I hope it plans to be braver with issues of race and gender, but also with academia. In other words, I hope it addresses America’s emergence along side the assault on reason that dominates the contemporary debate about gender, sex and the medical community. It will be interesting to see where they go from here and if it can be sustained, as well as how serialized it will be.
Masters of Sex does a few things in refreshing ways: It’s not an anti-hero story and does not use the Sopranos/Mad Men/Breaking Bad formula of good guy gone bad. There is a warmth and humour that paints the darker and more melodramatic beats. It’s intelligent in the sense that it paces itself before rolling out its larger ensemble cast — a precaution most shows don’t take, to their detriment (I’m talking to you Agents of Shield). On a more complex narrative note:The stakes etched into the background are existentially high, while remaining intimate, ‘small’ (for lack of a better term – not to be confused with insignificant) and personal in the immediate foreground of the characters & story telling. Most of the shows we love tend towards the opposite but here it works. We’re not lost to the implications or the impact that Masters and Johnson will have on American society and indeed the world.
This is the first show in the slate of fall shows that I can confidential have personal interest in (as opposed to the others — like the campy Marvel’s Agents of Shield, Hostages (or as I like to call it: Nana’s Low Winter Sun) or The Black List — which I watch purely for research & work). There is a chance SHOWTIME has a prestige hit in the making with Masters of Sex. Let’s hope so because with Breaking Bad gone, Mad Men on its way out, Luther taking year long hiatuses between four to six episode seasons, House of Cards taking a over a year between seasons (and likely not coming back for a third) and Homeland going all Twilight on us, it’s getting real rough out there.
And don’t let the title of MoS fool you. It’s about politics, power, class, race, history, gender, science, marriage and friendships. What else?