Masters of Sex: TV Review

Masters of Sex Key Art - H 2012
Craig Blankenhorn/SHOWTIME

Masters of Sex Key Art - H 2012

Masters of Sex has depth of vision and plenty of dramatic material to delve into.

From creator Michelle Ashford, Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan lead a top-notch cast in the series about Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson.

It’s kind of impressive (and partly amazing) how quickly the second episode of Showtime’s Masters of Sex makes it clear, for those still sticking around and wondering, that it’s not in the titillation game.

And that’s a good thing.

The pilot was chock-full of nudity and sex and sex talk and, well, if that’s all you wanted, it was right there for you (it is pay cable, after all). But even in the pilot, it was clear that Masters of Sex is going for substance and telling a larger tale. And the second episode starkly drove that message home. It’s not like the show has to clear the room of peeping Toms, but it was comforting to see that Masters of Sex has depth of vision and plenty of dramatic material to delve into without taking the easy way out with a nipple and a romp every 10 minutes.

STORY: 'Masters of Sex' Cast and EPs Get Candid About Nudity, Mourn Virginia Johnson

The series was created by Michelle Ashford and stars Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters and Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson. The casting is impeccable. Caplan is magnetic as Johnson, the single mother struggling to survive in the '60s, getting a secretarial job and, because she’s in tune with her own sexuality, effortlessly conveying to the more uptight Masters just what a woman wants. The actress navigates her sexuality with ease and allows the mental and emotional elements of the character to stay front and center (there’s already enough nudity and sex in the surrounding environs of the show, so this is a fine choice by both Ashford and Caplan).

Sheen is equally compelling, and that’s a feat not without effort, given how unlikable Masters is when we meet him. In the two episodes sent by Showtime, Sheen manages to project Masters’ ego and drive as both his strengths and weaknesses — pushing the sex study when everyone is trying to kill it and, on the other hand, being unable to tell his wife, Libby (Caitlin Fitzgerald), that it’s his low sperm count, not an inability on her part to conceive, keeping them from having a baby – which is cruel and echoes his lack of passion for her. (It has a fine supporting cast as well, including Beau Bridges and Allison Janney.)

There appear to be myriad stories for the writers to mine in Masters of Sex, which lets the audience know that it’s not going to be a sprint from two disparate people to a couple on the cover of Time magazine, spearheading a sexual revolution. But perhaps the best story of all is 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.