Fall 2013 Pilot Review: Masters of Sex

I don’t ordinarily review cable pilots, but I have been really excited about this one and wanted to share my thoughts with you all. I hope you enjoy!

Premise: Based on Thomas Maier’s biography, this show follows Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan), two pioneering researchers of human sexuality.

Pre-show Thoughts: While I’m less familiar with Masters and Johnson beyond their model of the sexual response cycle, I have been looking forward to seeing this show since I first heard about it. My focus in grad school was on sexuality-related issues so this show is really right up my alley. I know a lot of the early sex-research work was horribly unethical and could never be replicated now but I know little else. I’m excited to learn more about the work they did and how they contributed to our current thoughts about sexuality.

Post-show Thoughts: This show is exactly what I wanted. I am fascinated by the work that Dr. Masters started all while screaming in my head how horribly unethical it is. It shows so much about the way sexuality research was perceived at the time and general social norms of the time that (should) seem horrible to us now.

I didn’t know anything about Virginia Johnson prior to beginning this series and after the first episode, I would love to know more about her life and her work with William Masters. She seems like an extremely interesting woman and I can’t wait to see more of this series to learn about her.

The show itself is extremely engaging, though I don’t know how much of that is my interest in the subject matter. Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan’s acting is incredible, as is Caitlin Fitzgerald’s work as Libby. I am not thrilled with Nicholas D’Agosto as Ethan although I’m sure some of that my difficulty separating him as an actor from his role as West on Heroes and the fact that I don’t enjoy him as a character.

William Masters and Virginia Johnson (along with Alfred Kinsey a few years prior) were undoubtedly pioneers in what is now the thriving field of sexuality studies.  They were excited about their work, despite the stigma and that’s what I appreciate the most. They were passionate about that work and that passion is captured fully by the show. What’s most important to me as a viewer and former academic in a similar field is that I can recognize the more problematic aspects of the work they did (like Masters telling Johnson that the best way to get data was for them to have sex) while appreciating the contributions that they made. It is my hope that other viewers will also make that distinction and enjoy learning more about sexuality and the way it was perceived of in 1950s and 60s while also exploring how it is perceived today and what was right or wrong about the work that was being done. I want this show to make people think, above all, while still being entertained.

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