Is it possible to conduct an illicit experiment without it affecting your daily life? That's part of the premise behind Showtime's new show "Masters of Sex," which showcased one man's quest to under how different people react to physical intimacy. The results may seem to be quiet for a premiere episode, but the show indicated that there were more twists to come.
"Masters of Sex" followed Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) who appeared to have it all in the form of a growing medical practice that allowed women struggling to get pregnant a chance at motherhood. Unfortunately, he was unable to help give his wife Libby (Caitlin FitzGerald) the opportunity at becoming a mother herself. Instead of comforting Libby, Masters has thrown himself into researching a secret study about understanding how sexual intercourse impacted men and women. He tried to get his study approved, but his boss Barton Scully (Beau Bridges) won't approve it just yet. Masters was looking for a new secretary to help him conduct his study and provide a different perspective to sex that he didn't have before. He found the perfect secretary in Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) who was a divorced single mother and viewed sex in a very different way than most women. Virginia believed that sex didn't necessarily come with a marriage proposal. She got involved with young resident Dr. Ethan Haas (Nicholas D'Agosto) who was expecting something more than she was willing to provide. When Virginia broke off the relationship, Ethan reacted very poorly and possibly threatened their work relationship in the process. Virginia did find a potential ally in Dr. Lillian DePaul (Julianne Nicholson) that could either help or hurt her down the line. With Masters' help, Virginia was able to recruit more people to be participants in the study, including Dr. Austin Langham (Teddy Sears). Will Master and Virginia's work on the study impact their lives as well as they work to break new ground?
In terms of questions, the show managed to provide viewers with a few tidbits of what was to come. Okay, the premiere might have gotten off to a slow start in the beginning, but it greatly improved once Caplan's Virginia showed up to put things into perspective. Caplan's character was designed to be a portal of sorts for viewers to able to understand Dr. Masters' complex world of science and also state what the viewers were thinking. She provided the show with more of an emotional heart that wasn't fully conveyed with Sheen's oddly distant scientist. Some viewers might feel uncomfortable with the subject matter of analyzing sex, but the show looks at the story from a sometimes purely scientific viewpoint where it took many scenes to research how each character responded to different situations. It also helped that the show had two very different viewpoints on the subject of sex from the main characters. Masters' viewpoint was based on the male perspective that sex could either be an act of love, or an obligation when it came to trying to conceive a child. His idea of conducting the study could be designed as a coping mechanism for not being able to help his wife get pregnant. Virginia's viewpoint on the same subject was that sex provided either an experience or children. After another failed marriage, she decided to control her personal life in a way where she didn't get hurt too badly. What made the show worth watching was that it depicted how having sex came with complications that couldn't be explained away with empirical data. The series premiere also indicated how everyone who was involved in the study could be affected by what happened, including Masters and Virginia. It's hard to say whether the outcome will be favorable or not, but the results should still be interesting to watch nonetheless.
As for breakout performances, Sheen and Caplan led the pack as their very different characters tried to understand sex and everything that came with it. Sheen's Masters was designed to be a man who was obsessed with science to the point where everything else faded in the background, which included his wife. He embodied Masters as a man who would do anything to help women become pregnant, but he was unable to admit his own personal and professional failings. Sheen demonstrated that underneath all of the facts and figures laid a man struggling to find a true purpose with his life outside of work. His most memorable scene came when he returned home after a horrible day at work. Masters was seeking comfort from his wife, but she wasn't really able to give it because her latest attempt to get pregnant failed. Sheen's Masters had two different reactions that included one of surprise that the scientific data was wrong and one of disappointment that he failed to comfort his wife far too late. Caplan, on the other hand, had the challenging task of being the show's wild card who immediately shook up the action as soon as she entered the room. Viewers knew right off the bat that Masters and Caplan's Virginia would be working together before they did. She embodied Virginia as a rebel who wanted to better herself for her children and still have a personal life that she could control. Caplan gave her character a level of confidence and swagger that allowed her to approach people to be participants in the study without overselling them. Her most memorable scene was when she interviewed to be Masters' secretary and how she managed to answer some rather strange questions with such an ease that demonstrated how comfortable she would be with the subject matter. Let's hope that the show gets a chance to see Virginia turn the tables on Masters, or at the very least surprise him at some point. Only time will tell if that does happen.
"Masters of Sex" premieres on September 29th and airs Sundays at 10:00 pm on Showtime. The series premiere is currently available on Showtime's website and OnDemand before the episode airs.
Verdict: Sheen and Caplan provided strong performances in the premiere, but the story still needs to be developed slightly to make viewers want to stick around for the rest of the season.
TV Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)