×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: Showtime’s ‘Masters of Sex’

Slick period drama on sex researchers? Sounds like the reason we pay for premium cable

With:

Michael Sheen, Lizzy Caplan, Caitlin FitzGerald, Nicholas D’Agosto, Teddy Sears, Beau Bridges, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson

In cable TV terms, “Masters of Sex” feels like a triumph of concept and casting even before you get to the perfectly entertaining series birthed out of those two well-devised elements. Revisiting 1950s sexual mores through the pioneering research of Masters & Johnson, the show (derived from a book by Thomas Maier) features Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan in the central roles, while providing legitimate cover for lots of explicit a-big-reason-we-pay-for-Showtime sex and nudity. Coming on the heels of “Ray Donovan,” the pay channel continues to steadily reinforce the dramatic bona fides built on the backs of “Dexter” and “Homeland.”

Mining some of the same territory regarding pre-sexual revolution oppression and research as did the movie “Kinsey,” “Masters of Sex” features Sheen as Dr. William Masters, a brilliant clinician whose curiosity is thwarted by the puritanical times as well as a medical establishment that sees such inquiry as thinly veiled smut.

“You pretended to have an orgasm?” Masters asks one of his clandestine subjects, forced as he is to enlist a prostitute to privately pursue his studies. “Why would a woman lie about something like that?”

It’s 1956 when Masters, already an accomplished and highly respected ob-gyn at Washington U., meets new arrival to the office Virginia Johnson (Caplan), a twice-divorced former singer and single mom. Her somewhat cavalier attitude toward sex, and ability to approach women in a more sympathetic way than the good doctor, gradually prompts him to bring her into the process, which is meeting formidable resistance from his boss (Beau Bridges) and the hospital’s board of trustees.

Sheen doesn’t much resemble the actual guy, but he does convey a chilly detachment, which extends to Masters’ relationship with his wife (Caitlin FitzGerald), who is wracked with guilt over their inability to conceive. If the “Doctor, heal thyself” part of that subplot feels a trifle stiff and familiar, writer Michelle Ashford for the most part keeps the narrative and relationships humming along, deftly weaving in humor and pathos as the various subplots progress, with Caplan (whose series resume includes “Party Down” and “The Class”) providing an intriguing, slightly mysterious emotional counterweight to Sheen’s tightly wound MD.

Just technically speaking, the look is impeccable, capturing the Eisenhower era with every small touch and wrinkle. The unhurried pace also suggests a slow build to accommodate a series on the back of what might have been dispensed with as a movie or miniseries.

So while “Masters of Sex” might not be a great show as yet, viewed strictly in terms of giving consumers something worth paying for — or at least an experience they couldn’t receive in quite the same way in many other places — it’s the equivalent of a master class in pay-TV development.

TV Review: Showtime's 'Masters of Sex'

(Series; Showtime, Sun. Sept. 29, 10 p.m.)

Production:

Filmed in New York and Los Angeles by Round Two Prods. and Timberman/Beverly Prods. in association with Sony Pictures Television.

Crew:

Executive producers, Michelle Ashford, Sarah Timberman, Carl Beverly, Amy Lippman, Judith Verno; co-executive producers, Tyler Bensinger; producers, Gregory Prange, Thomas Maier, Tammy Rosen, Michael Sheen, Michael Dinner; director, John Madden; writer, Ashford, based on the book “Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson” by Thomas Maier; production designer, Michael Wylie; costume designer, Ane Crabtree; music, Michael Penn; music supervisor, Liz Gallacher; casting, Risa Bramon Garcia, Bernard Telsey. 60 MIN.

Cast:

Michael Sheen, Lizzy Caplan, Caitlin FitzGerald, Nicholas D’Agosto, Teddy Sears, Beau Bridges, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson

More TV

  • David Cohen (l) Executive Vice President

    Comcast Veteran David Cohen to Step Down

    Longtime Comcast executive David Cohen is stepping down from his operational role overseeing public policy, government relations, diversity and other key corporate functions for the media giant. Comcast said Thursday in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that Cohen, senior executive VP and chief diversity officer, will step down from his operational responsibilities as of [...]

  • Mother Dough

    Italy's 39 Films, Argentina's Jaque Content Join Brava Cine's Doc Series 'Mother Dough'

    Italy’s 39 Films and Argentina-México-U.S.-based Jaque Content are joining forces with Buenos Aires’ Brava Cine to co-produce Mercedes Cordova’s ethno-gastronomy doc series “Masa madre” (“Mother Dough”). Developed at Brava Cine, “Mother Dough” has been selected for pitching sessions and business meetings at Ventana Sur Market’s Fiction Factory sidebar, after winning last year a development contest [...]

  • Dynamo Japan

    Asia Television Forum: U.K.’s Passion Scores Deals Across Asian Region

    U.K. based Passion Distribution, and London- and Los Angeles-headquartered Motion Content Group has licensed magic based show “Dynamo Beyond Belief” to AETN18 Media in India. The three-part special, featuring award-winning British magician Dynamo, will air on the History TV18 channel. The deals were announced this week at the Asia Television Forum in Singapore. Passion has [...]

  • Billie Eilish in Talks With Apple

    Billie Eilish Nearing Deal With Apple TV Plus for R.J. Cutler-Helmed Documentary

    Apple TV Plus is nearing a deal to acquire a yet-untitled Billie Eilish documentary, directed by R.J. Cutler and produced by Interscope Films, a source close to the situation confirmed to Variety. While reports have that said that film is part of a $25 million deal and has a budget between $1-2 million, a source [...]

  • THE MASKED SINGER: The Butterfly in

    'The Masked Singer' Reveals the Identity of the Butterfly

    Spoiler Warning: Do not read on unless you’ve watched Dec. 4’s episode of “The Masked Singer,” “Clash of the Masks.” With seven masked singers left, Wednesday night’s episode of “The Masked Singer,” titled “Clash of the Masks,” revealed that the celebrity behind the Butterfly was Michelle Williams. After four contestants split into duos, the Fox [...]

  • Jennifer Beals

    'The L Word' Star Jennifer Beals Talks About Her Early Career

    Ten years after “The L Word’s” cancellation, Jennifer Beals is ready to make her return as the ever-so-professional Bette Porter. She’ll not only star in the continued story, but she’ll also executive produce alongside original co-stars Leisha Hailey and Katherine Moennig, and creator Ilene Chaiken. Beals has been hard at work in front of and [...]

  • AJ AND THE QUEEN

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Debuts 'AJ and the Queen' Trailer Starring RuPaul (Watch)

    In today’s TV news roundup, Netflix revealed the first look at “AJ and the Queen.” Also, Jean Smart and Jason Alexander will guest star in an episode of “Mad About You.” CASTINGS Jason Alexander and Jean Smart will guest star in an episode of “Mad About You,“ Spectrum announced. Smart will play Chelsea Stevens-Kobolakis, an eccentric [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content