5 Questions And 500 Words: “Masters Of Sex”

Welcome to another installment of “5 Questions and 500 Words,” my approach this year to reviewing the sundry pilots that will be unspooling over the course of the next few weeks. Given the glut of shows, and the glut of reviews that will be published for these shows, I’m keeping things short and sweet. This is for your convenience and my sanity.

Masters Of Sex, premieres September 29 at 10 pm EST on Showtime


Lots of critics have been calling this the best new Fall drama. Should I believe the hype?

You should believe the assignation, but don’t assume there’s any real hype here. In other years, “Masters Of Sex” would be seen as a very good show. But its vaulted status as best new Fall drama derives more from a lack of competition than anything truly mindblowing presented in the episodes provided for review.

So, I should just forget about this and just rewatch “Dexter”?

Oh Lord no. As I said: it’s a good show, and has the wonderful quality of improving dramatically over its less-than-stellar first two outings. Starting with episode three, it transforms into less of a step-by-step examination of how Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) and his assistant Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) conducting their groundbreaking analysis of human sexuality and more of a chamber piece about human connection. Sheen’s character comes off like a robot studying orgasms in the first two hours, but we learned in subsequent episodes just how much this research is about unlocking his own damaged psyche. The former is the subject of documentary. The latter is the subject of drama.

On a scale of 1 to “Gigolos,” how exploitative is the sex on this show?

You will see plenty of human flesh in this show, but rarely is it remotely exploitative. The nudity is baked into the show, but this isn’t “The Masters And Johnson Casting Couch Hour”. Both the amount of skin and the ways in which flesh meets flesh is the point of the study, but also a function of the aforementioned connection. This is a sex-positive show set in an insanely repressed era. Although given that only a few years ago we lost our collective sh$t over a nipple at the Super Bowl, the attitudes depicted in “Masters Of Sex” aren’t as removed as many would like to assume.

Given the landscape, a sex-positive show that doesn’t feature male antiheroes is good, right??

When the show isn’t being didactic or overly obvious in its messaging, yes. There’s a lot to admire about the show, but there are also some hamfisted storylines and simply egregrious acting/writing happening on the periphery of this show that you’ll stand amazed and its existence. This is a show with “something to say,” and while many watching will agree with it, many might take issue with the method of presentation. Given that this show takes place largely at a teaching hospital, some amount of dramatic dissertation was probably unavoidable. But it’s unfortunate all the same.

What’s the best attitude with which to watch this show?

“This is not ‘Breaking Bad’.” Seriously. There’s a whole crop of shows that embrace optimism and connection, and while “Masters” isn’t as flashy as many shows on cable, it’s worth watching all the same. There’s more than one way to produce good drama, and many of them eschew violence and death as markers of quality.