“Masters of Sex” is attention-grabbing just from its title, but Showtime’s latest drama — which stars Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen — is a lot more than just a series about people getting it on. Instead of being just about sex, this new show is about the science of sex, which somehow makes for a much more engaging subject.
Based on the biography of the same name, “Masters of Sex” tells the true story of Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson. The pair are credited with pioneering the research of human sexual response from the late 1950s through the 1990s, so there’s clearly plenty of real-life stories to draw from for this show. But it’s the people in “Masters of Sex” that make it so interesting, not only its subject matter.
Caplan steals all of the scenes she is in from the get-go as Virginia Johnson. Virginia is a woman unlike anyone on this show, and is especially a foil to Caitlin FitzGerald, who plays Masters’ wife. Caplan’s Virginia is strong-willed, driven and sexually adventurous, in addition to being incredibly intelligent and capable. Given time, it could be that she could become the master behind Masters on the show, as his wife Libby is already calling Virginia her husband’s secret weapon in the pilot.
But perhaps Virginia is a better foil for Masters, who though brilliant is often callous and manipulative. He tells his wife he looks at her and sees “love,” and yet lies to her about their infertility problems and has unenthused, methodical sex with her because it’s the most medically likely way for her to get pregnant. Though he and Johnson have great chemistry, they are very different people and will likely find their personalities clashing as the series progresses. One such conflict is set up in the pilot’s final moments, when Masters propositions Johnson for the sake of science, but she — and the audience — feel that it might be something more.
Beyond “Masters of Sex’s” two leads, the cast is bursting with great performers. From Teddy Sears to Nicolas D’Agosto to one of Zap2it’s picks for this season’s Ones to Watch, Annaleigh Ashford, this is a series that will become known for its strong ensemble instead of just the two stars on its top billing. FitzGerald will hopefully blossom as Libby as well, and become a stronger character as she spends more time with Virginia.
All together “Masters of Sex” makes an engaging pilot, but it is as yet untested as a premise for a series. Hopefully the show continues to be a character study as much as a historical retelling, and it will follow through on the pilot’s promise. From what has been shown so far, though, “Masters of Sex” is definitely something that a television viewer looking for quality, intelligent dramas should check out.
“Masters of Sex” premieres on Sept. 29 at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.