Actors: Michael Sheen, Lizzy Caplan
Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Subtitled, NTSC
Subtitles: English, Spanish, Portuguese, French
Number of discs: 4
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: June 24, 2014
Run Time: 677 minutes
Upon hearing that there would be a Showtime series entitled “Masters of Sex,” I immediately assumed it to be a spin-off of the anthology series, “Masters of Horror.” They did the same with science fiction as well, so I just assumed that we were going to get a series of hour-long erotica from various infamous film-fornicators. Instead, this series plays more like a sexed-up “Mad Men,” with pioneers in scientific research of sex in the 1950s rather than the marketing world of the 1960s. Character development takes precedence over any clear direction in the storyline; though there is a clearer progression in the scientific discoveries throughout season one.
The show is built upon the unconventional and often unclear personality of the pioneering sexologist and gynecologist, Dr. William Howell Masters (played by Michael Sheen), and the collaboration with his twice-divorced secretary, Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan). The fact that the storyline quickly becomes entangled in an inevitable sexual relationship between the two is somewhat tiring, especially with the way the series drags it out. This is not the only melodramatic sexual relationship to overpower the storyline, but the show recovers when the scientific research remains in focus.
This research is taboo in the 1950s, and a lot of the show’s scientific research must be conducted in secret and through a variety of manipulations within the hospital politics. Some of the research methods might be shocking even by today’s standards, but the method with which it is approached for the series remains titillating rather than pornographic. My biggest issue with the series is the assumptions inserted from some of the research done at that time. For example, there is a difference between being educated in sexuality and being lustfully gluttonous. At times it seems to go hand-in-hand in “Master of Sex” that understanding how sex works leads to a sexual revolution that glorifies indulgence as the equivalent of expertise, while portraying sexual restraint as nothing more than ignorance and immaturity.
Despite the faults in the show’s underlying messages or point, there is much to be said for the acting and overall look of the series. Though there have been many unsuccessful attempts at period drama since the popularity of “Mad Men” became apparent, “Masters of Sex” looks to be one which will stick around for a few seasons. The first season includes twelve hour-long episodes on four discs, along with a handful of special features. The pilot episode comes with an optional commentary track, and there is a great making-of featurette. There are also a few deleted scenes, and two featurettes for each of the show’s leading stars.
Entertainment Value: 6.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10
Historical Significance: 7/10