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This one Is A Masterspiece

Sex is not the only issue
Sex is not the only issuePhoto by Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Masters of Sex Season 2


I'll be perfectly honest: the lead characters at the center of Masters of Sex, the series inexplicably paired with Ray Donovan this summer are not much more likable than the ones at the center of the series that precedes it. One is an ob-gyn determined to open the eyes of the world to sexuality, who speaks with the plainest scientific detachment to even the people he should care about the most; the other is a woman trying her damnedest to make it in a world that has not yet opened its arms to women, period. Why then, is the series not only so much more watchable and entertaining than pretty much anything else on TV?
Part of it is, the central performances of Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan as Masters and Johnson, the scientists who are struggling against the world, and are willing to do just about anything to make the world a better place And part of it is, the consequences are much clearer and the contradictions are that much more fascinating. As a result of the release of the study in the Season One Finale, Dr, Masters (just as happened in real life) was let go from the St. Louis hospital where he had built up a spectacular career. Virginia is still there, trying to create a study for pap smears with the now declining Dr. De Paul (a masterful performance by Julianne Nicholson), and dealing with the repercussions--- she's been propositioned by every male at the hospital, and is the subject of scorn by almost all the women. Both are trying to get the study to go forward at Bill's new job, but are being undercut by obnoxious faculty, while continuing the affair that began in Season 1, one that Bill refuses to admit, even to Virginia (or himself) is actually an affair.
The series is also brilliant for its absolutely ingenious experiments in writing. Last season's masterwork 'Fallout' showed the consequences of a season of action while mirrored against a massive civil defense drill--- the end of the world in atomic fallout seemed far less frightening then the explosions that went off there. This season, they've already aired an episode that should be on the short list for the Emmy next season--- 'Fight'. This episode basically mirrored a stage production. Set almost entirely in a hotel room where Bill and Virginia are meeting to continue their 'study', while a black and white television aired the Moore-Dollard heavyweight championship, we watched the two protagonists engage in the fictions they built for themselves, while revealing some of the more painful moments in both of their lives, it was a masterwork of writing, direction, and acting. As great as TV is these days, I can't think of another series that would have taken the risks that this show does.
Masters of Sex is an absolutely fearless series. In a few episodes, creator Michelle Ashford promises, the series will make a time jump of around five years, showing how Masters and Johnson really tried to advance their cause after their first major failure. While this will no doubt be a major loss--- several of the more fascinating characters that showed up in Season 1, including the Emmy nominated Beau Bridges and Allison Janney, will have much smaller roles--- I realize that in many ways, this must be done to try and show the scope and magnitude the country that the real Masters and Johnson lived in. And with gifted actors like Sarah Silverman and Courtney Vance scheduled to join the series in the coming weeks, one can hardly wait. It's for reasons like this that Masters isn't just the best series on Showtime right now. It's one of the best on television, and the Emmy voters were nearly as blind as the doctors back then to ignore it for Best Drama this season. Don't screw up again, guys.