'Masters of Sex' Pilot Review: Michael Sheen And Lizzy Caplan Shine In Promising Series Opener
The series premiere of Showtime’s Masters Of Sex offers a provocative, semi-biographical look into the work of William H. Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan), who pioneered research of the body’s reactions during sex and sexual dysfunction. The set of actors are well cast and convincing in their roles, with good chemistry – or a lack thereof, when necessary – making for a strong introduction to the show.
The episode opens on a celebration of OB/GYN Masters’ work. The serious, quiet honoree quickly thanks the speaker – Barton Scully (Beau Bridges) – and hurries off to observe a prostitute (Annaleigh Ashford) in a brothel have sex with a customer – a striking contrast to where he was supposed to be. He later interviews her and is shocked to find out that women often fake orgasms – this sets up the concept that Masters’ curiosity about the body during sex likely stems from being relatively clueless about sex himself. Indeed, when he returns home to his wife Libby (Caitlin Fitzgerald), with whom he’s trying to have a child – their sexual encounter is all about conception and not passion.
Masters begins pressing Scully to present his study on sex to the board of the hospital so he can make it official. Scully is reluctant at first, but after observing the beginning stages of the trial – which now includes the assistance of Johnson, a sexually free but non-medically trained secretary, who is also former nightclub singer– agrees to do so. Johnson, meanwhile, begins a sexual relationship with Masters’ resident Ethan Haas (Nicholas D’Agosto), making it clear she wants to be friends and not date. However, he cannot accept it – he becomes angry and calls her a whore when he finds out that she wasn’t kidding when she said she wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship.
Overall, the premiere was intriguing and promising – what person could watch this and not be at least a little bit interested in the research this real-life study found? The drama of Masters of Sex is curious and entertaining, while at the same time scientific and honest. It may make weaker viewers squeamish at times given the amount of nudity – this is Showtime, after all – but none of it is gratuitous; it all contributes to the honesty of the story.
Caplan is convincing as the quietly confident, smart, and witty Johnson, while Sheen’s curiousness as Masters makes the character’s frank and stubborn nature likeable. I also enjoyed that the pilot didn’t rush too quickly to give character introductions like most pilots do – it allowed the actors to introduce themselves, and quite well, at that. However, the relationship between Johnson and Haas escalated relatively quickly, given that this episode seems to cover no more than a week or two – unless it was stated otherwise in the episode and I’m mistaken. Other than that, Masters Of Sex presented a great introduction to a series I will certainly be tuning into this season.
Masters Of Sex airs on Showtime, Sundays at 10:00.
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