Masters Of Sex pilot review
Here’s what I know you want to know – is this show clinical and kind of boring, or sexy enough to be titillating viewing, or something in the middle?
One of the things that happens is that dudes who say “How does Wesley Snipes from 30 Rock get to have women like Kate Beckinsale and Rachel McAdams?” will continue to say that. Well, actually they won’t because most dudes don’t know who those women are, but nonetheless, this is both sexy and deeply, deeply not.
But Michael Sheen’s blown out hair and extremely precise language make me amused, as does the extremely flat pronunciation of the word “twat”. It’s very, very pilot-of-Mad Men - in this pilot, the “smoking is bad?” equivalent revelation is the equally groan-inducing “why would women fake orgasms?”
The answer is obvious, of course, but we explore it through several types of sex. There’s prostitute sex, and baby-making sex (which includes a prayer beforehand…yikes) and the first time a guy gets his mind blown by a woman’s body really, truly.
It’s engaging, even though it’s a bit too straightforward. You can see where it’s all coming from kind of a mile away, and in contrast to Mad Men, we know more about the subject at hand than the characters do.
But it’s heartening to watch it and go “at least they’re asking the questions”.
So. Dr. Masters is Michael Sheen. He’s very successful, fascinated by sex in an academic way and of course, as we can guess, a recreational one too – even though his wife is a weird hyper-innocent who calls him “Daddy” in a way that’s very disturbing. We also know that he’s a good person, because he does things like commit to preserving or restoring the fertility of a black woman after she has a brutal c-section. This is 1956, remember. He’s indulgent of his young protégé, even though said protégé spends all his time being giddy over Lizzy Caplan and her magical sexual feelings and pencil skirts. He firmly believes his research, on the progress and development of orgasms, is worthy and scientific and worthy of funding and mouthing off to his superiors .
I love Mean Girls in exactly as much measure as I’m supposed to, and have as many as Janis Ian’s lines committed to memory and all – but Lizzy Caplan has never been one of my people, in particular. So I feel quite justified in saying that she’s really compelling here. Almost contradictorily so – she’s far, far too confident as the assistant who’s trying to climb into something interesting with Dr. Masters, and I’m not sure whether that’s the performance or the character. But the self-confidence is really attractive at the same time, and the character, Virginia Johnson, feels fresh in this context – not just because she has the self-confidence, but because she is truly compelled by her career. Also, she has really super eyebrows and I don’t know how I didn’t give them any credit before.
There are some bumps in the first episode – Masters’ wife is just cloyingly sweet, and the efforts to make her endearing didn’t work on me. And of course, the scenes between Ethan and Virginia grow untenable pretty quickly. I think we’re supposed to feel that the tables have turned, and that because she has modern sexual attitudes, he’s the one who’s addicted to her and “acting like a girl”, but it’s not a fully fleshed-out idea and it also gets overshadowed pretty quickly by Ethan becoming a big cartoon of a bad guy, in a way that feels not quite earned.
Still, I’m interested - as much by Virginia’s career ascent and sheer balls as by the sex, which, in its last, two-person scene, somehow manages to come off as sweet as well as a bit sexy. The kicker in the last two minutes, which I won’t spoil here but that I bet you can guess based on the fact that I’ve detailed both Masters’ and Johnson’s sexual positions this far, is preposterous and also totally necessary, and I will be delighted to watch it play out in the next episodes.
Enjoy. This is not one you’re going to be able to talk about with your father-in-law at Sunday dinner, but a worthwhile watch anyway.