Sony Home Entertainment releasing the uber-awesome Sunday night Showtime docudrama "Masters of Sex" in time to watch these episodes before the second season premieres on July 13, 2014 is almost as perfect timing as the pace of this "behind-the-scenes" series about the truly ground-breaking research by Dr. Bill Masters and Mrs. Virginia Johnson. The perfection continues in casting Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan in the leads.
Aside from the excellent casting and the titillating (of course, pun intended) subject matter, "Masters" stands out as a well-written show that, ala "Mad Men," nicely portrays an era from the not-so-distant past without bludgeoning one over the head with it. In this case, the audience gets a view of the mid-1950s.
The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the especially good trailer for "Masters" S1 provides a great overview of the drama and humor in the show and the style of the era in which it occurs.
As an aside, this "modern period" piece evokes memories of a comment by "Happy Days" creator Garry Marshall. Marshall observes that setting that '70s show in the '50s prevents it from ever looking dated.
A second warranted aside relates to another element that distinguishes "Masters." The clever technique of having the "E" in "Sex" subliminally presented in the form of a female rear-end and/or breasts has received substantial media attention.
The series premieres with Masters both meeting Johnson and initiating his study to measure physical responses to sexual activity. Much of the series focuses on the highs and lows of both that relationship and study. One general spoiler is that the puritanical attitudes toward sex in the '50s hinder the project.
Getting to learn more about these historic figures, who are at most known to the general populace as the names on the report, is another fascinating aspect of the series. Masters is a rather rigid and humorless individual, who definitely is task oriented. Divorcee and former nightclub singer Johnson is looser but still very professional and shares Masters' dedication to the project.
The interesting people in the professional lives of Masters and Johnson at the Washington University hospital in St. Louis that employs them and how populate the personal lives of our heroes add a great deal to the story. One of the more memorable characters is Masters' former mentor and current boss Dr. Barton Scully, expertly played by Beau Bridges in a manner much more like his General Landry on "Stargate: SG-1" than his Tom on the sitcom "The Millers."
It is easy to imagine that many professional men who had families in the '50s (and several decades on either side of that era) can relate to the conflicts that plague Barton. In his case, "to thine own self be true" is much more easily said than done.
"Masters" additionally addresses outdated social values without forcing the issue (of course, pun intended) and refrains from a heavy-handed approach. This extends beyond discomfort associated with discussing (let alone studying) sex to blatant gender inequality in the workplace and the home, ignorant views regarding homosexuality, and hilarious Cold War paranoia.
Nice humor related to the above include Scully's wife, with whom the divine Allison Janney does her usual perfect job, hilariously not grasping the concept of "queer" in reference to man-on-man action. A related scene has a very uncomfortable Masters watching two men engage in activity that is staged to enlighten the researcher about the mechanics of gay sex.
An absurd civil defense drill that many characters validly ignore provides further laughs. The ridiculous scenarios and thoroughly inaccurate information regarding the harm from an attack is fall-on-the-floor funny.
The first season aptly climaxes (of course, pun intended) with a scene in which Masters delivers a highly anticipated presentation regarding his study results to date. His purposefully pandering to his audience by adding information regarding the extent to which size matters is as amusing as a pre-presentation discussion regarding the frequency of male masturbation.
This episode additionally has a character literally come out of the closet in a scene that is refreshingly candid. This development is also reminiscent of the wonderful film "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" that Unreal TV reviewed a few days ago.
The special features include separate looks at how Sheen and Caplan play their roles, deleted scenes, and a "making of" documentary.
The final conclusion regarding this look at the history behind one of the most important modern medical reports is that well worth a few marathon viewing sessions. Those who do truly will still respect this (often humble) reviewer in the morning.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Masters" is encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.