Mini-review: Masters of Sex 1×1-1×2 (Showtime/Channel 4)

Masters of Sex

In the US: Sundays, 10pm ET/PT, Showtime
In the UK: Tuesdays, 9pm, Channel 4. Starts October 8

Although most people rate the works of Einstein and Schrödinger as among the most important works of science of the 20th century, the Masters and Johnson report has perhaps as much claim to the title as those do. A pioneering exploration of human sexuality, it overturned millennia of incorrect thinking, revolutionised attitudes towards homosexuality and provided a radical new look at female sexuality.

The team behind it were almost as interesting as the report itself. William Masters was a noted expert on human fertility while Virginia Johnson was a twice-married former nightclub singer who wanted a job as a secretary and caught Masters’ eye when he was looking for a female partner who could help him with his work – which, initially at least, somewhat unusually involved prostitutes and couples being randomly and anonymously assigned to have sex with one another.

The study is the basis for the biographical Masters of Sex, which sees the always fabulous Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan (gosh, The Class seems so long ago) play Masters and Johnson respectively. The series is a somewhat straight look at the arrogant, repressed and controlling Masters and the more-free spirited, personable Johnson, who is ultimately the one with the people skills to recruit volunteers. It’s also a Mad Men-esque look at the mores of the time, not just sexual but attitudes towards women – a time when the married Masters could suggest to Johnson that they have sex to avoid ‘transference’ to the study and pretty much firing her for saying no.

As you might expect, there’s more than a few sex scenes, with the usual greater female nudity than male nudity, even when not strictly necessary to the plot. Strangely, though, it’s quite a coy show, not quite as ready to deal with discussions and depictions of sexuality as you might have expected. The story is engrossing, largely because of the personalities of Masters and Johnstone. The cast are all great, particularly Sheen and Caplan.

But it’s not going to be for everyone, since the plot is a little drawn out, and after a couple of episodes, my interest has started to wane, despite being primed to enjoy this. I’ll stick with it, though.