Showtimes’s Masters of Sex returns on July 13. Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan star as William H. Masters and Virginia Johnson in this biographical series on the pioneers of sex science.
So, if your curiosity is aroused, here are our observations on Masters of Sex.
What’s the premise? Dr. Masters is the head of obstetrics at Washington University Hospital in St. Louis, MO, but his passion is studying human sexual response. His controversial study, done at a cathouse and behind closed doors at the hospital, relies on volunteers willing to have sex while being monitored. Virginia Johnson is a former nightclub singer and university student who quickly becomes an integral assistant in the research.
What’s it like? This pre-sexual revolution story, set in the late 1950s, is told as deliberately as William H. Masters’ own approach to his studies, scrutinizing the details of the subject from multiple angles. Head writer Michelle Ashford takes historical facts and weaves them into a beautiful and compelling character-driven series. Think Mad Med meets Cosmo, with a dash of your freshman sex ed class.
How long will it take? Season one is 12 episodes, but due to its deliberate pacing, Masters of Sex is not the easiest show to binge (though you won’t go blind). Give yourself a week or two so you have recovery time between sessions.
What do the critics think? The critics were definitely turned on by season one, and it’s Certified Fresh at 90 percent on the Tomatometer. Matt Zoller Seitz of Vulture said, “Masters of Sex is an intelligent, assured drama that gets better and better as it goes along.” Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter praised the treatment of the subject matter, noting that “Masters of Sex manages, with lightning speed, to shed any preconceived notions about what type of show it will be and, in so doing, tilts the camera up from the breast to the brain.” And James Poniewozik of Time Magazine went so far as to invent words to describe it: “Masters of Sex is nuanced, intelligently acted, and swellegantly directed, and I highly recommend it.”
Why should I watch this? Masters of Sex is masterfully told, and finds a way to strike a balance between story and eroticism. Both Michael Sheen and Lizzie Caplan are captivating in their roles of Masters and Johnson. There are also stand-out performances by the supporting players, including an especially moving subplot featuring Beau Bridges and Allison Janney. Visually, the show is stunning, capturing the era with sets and costumes — which make things all the more fascinating when the perfectly constructed costumes come off. But the shock settles quickly and what is most compelling is how these characters behave behind closed doors.
What’s my next step? You could get in the mood with the source material, Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love by Thomas Maier. Or if you’re looking for more quality television about mid-century obstetrics, you will find that the British TV show Call the Midwife delivers. Also, try Kinsey, the 2004 biopic about Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson), an entomologist whose studies lead him to an interest in human sexuality.
Are you into Masters of Sex? Leave your findings here — and, remember, this is for science.
Caught up with season one? Watch the season two premiere of Masters of Sex here. [Contains adult content; viewer discretion advised.]