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.

 

Masters of Sex

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.

Where can I see it? Season one is streaming on SHO.com and the Showtime Anytime app for subscribing customers. It’s also available on DVD on Netflix.

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.]


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Call the Midwife just began its third season in the U.S. on Sunday, Mar. 30, and we’ve got the info you need to get binging. Without the pregnant pause between episodes, you’ll be caught up in no time!

 

Call the Midwife

Call the Midwife
What’s the premise? The show chronicles the stories of a young midwife in the 1950s as she joins an order of nursing nuns at Nonnatus House, a clinic in London’s East End. With an assignment she wasn’t expecting, Nurse Jenny Lee jumps in with both feet (and many receiving blankets), attending to destitute mothers and parents-to-be within harrowing surroundings.

What’s it like? Referred to as a show to fill the void when Downton Abbey‘s popularity began waning, Call the Midwife is a period piece with heart. The stories we see, based on the real-life memoirs of Jennifer Worth, vary from saddening to joyous, and from charming to disturbing. Some of the topics confronted are not only extreme taboos for the time period (such as, inter-racial adultery), but are also taboo today (for example, sibling incest). Serious issues are handled with care and humor. For instance, Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt) gets laughs for her often funny yet sensitively handled bouts of dementia. She blurts out random profundities such as, “Dogs look up to us; cats look down on us; pigs treat us as equals” and “Once a thing is known, it can never be unknown.” One thing that is known: the characters in Midwife are too endearing to ignore, especially when thrust into ghastly predicaments. And don’t discredit this show in the special effects category, because some of these births are vivid and even gruesome.

Where can I see it? Episodes of Call the Midwife can be seen on Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, iTunes and Netflix. Seasons one and two are available on DVD/Blu-Ray and you can usually find episodes on your local cable provider website. Season three is currently airing on the PBS website and new episodes are posted there once they’ve aired.

How long will it take? We are currently at the beginning of season three. Seasons one and two are made up of fourteen episodes combined, along with two holiday specials. So 17 episodes, each about 50 minutes, adds up to around 14 hours — easily accomplished in one weekend, if you are committed. And no need for an epidural because those hours will pass quickly, especially as the series progresses into the nitty-gritty.

What do the critics think? Call the Midwife is one of the best shows that you (and even many critics) are not watching. Season one is Certified Fresh at 95%. Seasons two and three are both 80 percent on the Tomatometer, but there are very few reviews of each. The reviews that do exist are mostly raves. Of season one, TV Guide’s Matt Roush says, “The heart-tugging Call the Midwife is a delight to watch” and Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says, “Midwife offers a similar mix of warm drama with moments of character comedy that should appeal to Downton Abbey fans.” PopMatters’ J.M. Suarez says of season two: “Call the Midwife continues to be a highly enjoyable story about a very specific and underrepresented group of women in a time when their independence and skill was the exception.” And for season three, Kristi Turnquist of the Oregonian explains, “What makes Call the Midwife special is how the stories grip us on a human level.”

Why should I watch this? Vanessa Redgrave hooks you immediately as the narrator, an elder version of Jenny Lee. What keeps us on that hook are the midwives, who do amazing, life-changing work without recognition. Also, Call the Midwife has riveting surprises. You might not expect such terrible, visceral moments in what first appears as a charming, low-key drama. When those things happen, it’s extra exciting to remember that these stories are based on true memoirs. (It’s also interesting to note that each episode of season three is directed by a woman.) If you are looking for an engaging period presentation with lighthearted humor and heavyhearted drama, Midwife delivers!

What’s my next step? The Complete Call the Midwife Stories: True Stories of the East End in the 1950s by Jennifer Worth, the memoirs from which the series was created, is a great place to start. The subject of last week’s Weekly Binge, Nurse Jackie, is a more contemporary nursing show that might interest Midwife fans. Midwife also drew multiple comparisons to Downton Abbey. Nip/Tuck is another medical drama (albeit a bit more twisted and sensational) that exploits gripping medical visual effects. M*A*S*H*, both the film and television series might gratify, as might episodes of Quincy M.E., which also tackled controversial medical topics. For fun, you may enjoy such comedies about childbirth as Junior, For Keeps and especially Baby Boom with Diane Keaton.

What do you like about Call the Midwife? How would you explain it to a newborn? Get in on the conversation here.

Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures jointly announced today that the upcoming film being directed by three-time Academy Award-winning director-producer Steven Spielberg will be titled "Munich."

"Munich" is an historical thriller set in the aftermath of the 1972 massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Universal Pictures will release the film in the United States and Canada on December 23, 2005; DreamWorks Pictures will handle international marketing and distribution.

Munich recounts the dramatic story of the secret Israeli squad assigned to track down and assassinate 11 Palestinians believed to have planned the 1972 Munich massacre — and the personal toll this mission of revenge takes on the team and the man who led it. Eric Bana ("Troy") stars as the Mossad agent charged with leading the band of specialists brought together for this operation.

Inspired by actual events, the narrative is based on a number of sources, including the recollections of some who participated in the events themselves. The script is the first feature film written by Tony Kushner, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Tony Award and many other awards for his epochal Broadway drama "Angels in America" as well as its Emmy Award-winning adaptation for HBO. The film is produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Barry Mendel, Spielberg and Colin Wilson.

The international cast also includes Daniel Craig ("Layer Cake"), Geoffrey Rush ("Shine"), Mathieu Kassovitz ("Birthday Girl"), Hanns Zischler ("Walk on Water") and Ciarán Hinds ("Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera").

(Internet gossip also indicates that Kurt Russell will play a small role in "Munich.")

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