Tag Archives: masters of sex

Best of 2014: Shows

Of all the year-end lists, this one is by far the hardest for me. There are fewer choices when compared to my lists of characters, episodes, or actors but it’s also the least defined. I don’t even entirely know what I mean when I say these are the best shows of 2014. I watch and love so much television that it’s hard to know what the “best” is. Are they the shows I loved the most? Sometimes. I do love all the shows on this list but different ways. Are they the best, most popular shows I watch as determined by the wide variety of television critics online? Again, sometimes. There does seem to be a consensus that many of these shows are good-quality television. So what I’m left with is a combination of the shows that I feel consistently did things well over the past year and the ones I have loved the most. I’ve left off many of the “big” shows of the year that may have been technically good but failed to emotionally engage me in the same way. I’ve probably overrepresented comedies or comedy-adjacent shows but apparently that’s what I most wanted to watch this year because this list just feels right to me. As always, this is a list that says more about me than it does about the state of television in 2014. Head to the comments to tell me what you think makes a show worthy of a place on a “Best of” list and let me know your choices for 2014!

The Good Wife (CBS) Since the start of season 5, The Good Wife has proven itself to be a show that doesn’t shy away from the unexpected. It continues to reinvent itself and head in new directions. This year saw some changes for the show – Will’s death being the most notable. Diane left Lockhart Gardner, Cary was arrested, and Alicia started a run for state’s attorney. None of these characters are in the same place they were a year ago and the show is better for it. It’s allowed characters to interact in new ways and in combinations that had been previously lacking. With a continued use of fantastic guest and recurring stars, it remains one of the best-acted and most compelling dramas on TV.

Enlisted (FOX) You know a show must be something special when it touches the hearts of so many people. Enlisted’s fanbase may have been small but like many other comedies that have come before it, fans were passionate about this show and what it meant to them. It gave the focus to a set of duties that is little-known to civilians and it provided a look into just how hard the transition from war to peace can be. There was a lot this show did right. It thoughtfully examined the effects of PTSD, provided a wonderfully empathetic male character in Randy, and did it all by being genuinely funny. Perhaps the thing it did the best though was the focus on the relationship between the Hill brothers. All so very different, especially in the way they expressed their emotions, but the bond was always there. “Hands on head” moments were a surefire way to make me tear up because it felt so real. The chemistry between Geoff Stults, Parker Young and Chris Lowell was perfect. I wish we could have seen more of this amazing show but the 13 episodes we did get were well worth the time and emotional investment.

Transparent (Amazon) I knew this was a show for me very early on in the first episode. The Pfeffermans may not be the most likeable family on TV but they feel achingly real. The kids are selfish and self-absorbed in a way that a lot of us are without necessarily realizing it but they have moments of incredible kindness and compassion. They make big, life-altering decisions on a whim. They mess up and fight with each other and hurt each other but they forgive and accept each other as they are. The acting is wonderful and it is a beautiful look at becoming who you are. Maura’s transformation is the heart of the show. Flashbacks speak to her struggles and process of discovering who she is and the present time shows the lightness that comes with embracing yourself. This show is about people in all their beauty and ugliness and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Jane the Virgin (CW) I’ve already written up why I think this is a show more people need to be watching, but since I wrote that piece I’ve only fallen more in love with the show. In a TV landscape often filled with unhappiness or unrelenting drama and angst, Jane the Virgin feels remarkably grounded for a show about a girl who was accidentally artificially inseminated and whose roots are a telenovela. The plot may be extraordinary and soapy but the characters are full and emotionally rich. It’s hard not to love Jane, Xo, and Alba and want happiness for all of them. Rogelio is a true joy to watch. His personality is large and over-the-top but he remains real by his love for his newly-found daughter and his affection for Xo. It’s a show that makes me happy to watch every week because no matter what is happening (and it’s often a lot), my connection to these characters will draw me in to this heightened world.

In The Flesh (BBC America) What a beautiful gem of a show this is. At only 9 episodes between two seasons (with the fate of more seasons still up in the air), In The Flesh is a twist on the popular zombie stories of late. It’s not a story of human survival after a zombie apocalypse but rather a story of how medicated zombies are reintegrated into the society on which they wreaked havoc. The cinematography is beautiful, the characters will break your heart and make you love them, and and it examines issues like bigotry, the way religion is used to create zealous movements, the effects of PTSD and other mental illnesses on both individuals and their loved ones, and accepting who you are and the person you’d like to be.

Continue reading Best of 2014: Shows

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The Show that I Can’t Stop Talking About: Masters of Sex

Some shows take a while to grow on you. You see a trailer or read a synopsis and think that maybe the pilot could be worth checking out. Then you watch the pilot and it shows enough potential that you stick around for a few more episodes and before you know it, you’re hooked. With other shows, you read the synopsis and immediately know that this is a show for you. Everything just clicks and you know that you’re gonna love this show from minute one of the first episode. Last season, Masters of Sex was that show for me.

My early interest in the show was academic. The only thing I love more than television is sexuality research and Masters and Johnson played such an instrumental role in early research that I was immediately intrigued. Even if the acting and writing were bad, I still would have watched just to see how their research was portrayed and the issues that came up.

Fortunately for me, the show was fantastic. It was exactly what I wanted – a show about the research done by these two pioneers that was firmly anchored in the era it was a part of with some incredibly well-acted characters.

Let me start my singing the praises of Michael Sheen. As a character (and presumably as a person) William Masters was not a likable guy. He thinks like a scientist 99% of the time which was great for his research, but terrible for his personal interactions. He’s very reserved and does not spend a lot of time examining his own emotional state or how that may impact those around him. He’s arrogant, rude, and often loses sight of the human element of his work. Because his character is so internally driven when not actively engaged in research, he’s also a difficult character to play. Michael Sheen is able to portray the genius of the man as well as the part of him that is kind of a mess. It’s a quiet performance, it’s not at all flashy. But it makes that moment when the exterior facade that Masters has around him cracks that much more powerful and emotionally resonant and Sheen plays that perfectly. Still reserved and with a protective wall, but now with emotions that just couldn’t be contained any longer no matter how hard he tries to stop them.

Continue reading The Show that I Can’t Stop Talking About: Masters of Sex

Best of 2013: New Shows

This has been a great year for TV. I love that there were so many great new shows that they warranted their own list even if I didn’t get to as many as I wanted. I love the shift away from the antihero that happened this year and what it means for this new era of TV and I love the complexity and diversity of characters that we got to see this year. So in no particular order, here were my picks for the best new shows of the year.

Masters of Sex I have not shut up about this show since September but I will happily talk about it some more. I love this show. I love learning about the research of Masters and Johnson, the acting is fantastic, and I have completely fallen in love with the women on the show. It is a show that manages to combine my academic love for sex research with my love for great characters so it’s pretty much perfect for me.

Orphan Black It’s impossible to talk about this show without highlighting the incredible work that Tatiana Maslany is doing on it. It is really a testament to her that I’m able to forget that she’s playing several different characters. However, it also says a lot about the show that her talent isn’t the only thing that makes the show great. All of the clones are genuinely interesting characters, Felix is just the greatest in general, and I was completely drawn into the story.

Orange is the New Black If you like shows that feature complex female characters, stop what you are doing and watch Orange is the New Black if you haven’t already. I loved the use of flashbacks to show how some of the characters got to where they are today and I cannot wait to see more of them in season 2. These characters aren’t just criminals – they are allowed to be people with hopes and fears and insecurities and strengths. We understand them and fall in love with them as Piper’s perspective widens and she starts to care for them as well. On a lesser show, Suzanne would have remained Crazy Eyes and Tiffany Doggett would have remained Pennsatucky the religious nut. It is this show’s commitment to its characters and telling the stories of women that are rarely shown on television that make this show such a success.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine Parks and Rec is my favorite show so it wasn’t a huge surprise that I would enjoy another show by the same people. Just like Parks and Rec, it is funny and warm at the same time. Captain Holt cracks me up with his complete lack of expression at anything and Andre Braugher plays him perfectly. It feels like it’s been around for longer than half a season because the characters all feel fully formed and that’s something to be impressed by.

Trophy Wife This show was an unexpected treat. The name is a bit off-putting at at first glance, the characters seem like they could be one-dimensional but that hasn’t been the case at all as the season develops. They are an unconventional family but that is exactly what they are – all 4 adults and 3 children. It’s warm, funny, and gave me one of my new favorite Christmas episodes of TV.

Continue reading Best of 2013: New Shows

Finale Review: Masters of Sex

Episode Title: Manhigh

Renewal Status: Renewed for season 2

Pre-finale Thoughts: It’s not a secret that Masters of Sex has been one of my favorite shows of 2013. I love the subject matter and even more than that, I’ve come to love so many of the characters. They are all brilliantly acted and written and every single one of them deserves recognition. I may not always like them (especially Bill, who is difficult to love) but I believe them and that’s what I have been most thrilled with. I don’t like Ethan – I started warming up to him when he was with Vivian and then lost that all again in the last episode – but I think he’s an interesting character. 

I also love the variety of women portrayed on the show. Libby is very different from Virginia but also very different from Dr. DePaul and all are portrayed sympathetically and given complexity. Betty was written as a very likable character, which has not always been the case for sex workers on TV. For a show that I expected to predominately be about Bill Masters, it’s really been the female characters that make me love it as much as I do. 

Continue reading Finale Review: Masters of Sex

Episode of the Week: October 13th-October 19th

Now that most of my shows have gotten past their first few episodes of the season and now that I am caught up on nearly all of my shows after a vacation in the beginning of October, it’s time to bring back my regular “episode of the week” posts! Each Sunday, I’ll talk about my favorite episode of TV from the previous week.

I have been really happy with my TV shows this season, so there were a lot of contenders for this week’s winner. The Good Wife is back on form after a rocky 4th season, Castle is better than ever with Beckett and Castle happily settled in to their relationship, Sleepy Hollow has consistently been my favorite new network show, and Masters of Sex has been incredible.  While any of these four could easily have been my favorite of the week, I have to go with the episode “Standard Deviation” from Masters of Sex as my favorite episode because of it’s personal impact on me.

This week on Masters of Sex, we got some more insight into a young William Masters and how that made him into the person he is at the start of the show. He is a man who had an interest that was outside of social norms and so in order to be able to pursue his passion, he had to live a very specific life. He needed to be married to a good woman, having children would be the ideal, and he needed to be a respected doctor before he could be allowed to do the research he really wanted. As a result, he devoted himself to being the best OB/GYN in the Midwest and married Libby. It also helped explain why he was so interested in what he perceived as normal sexuality. His whole adult life had basically been a checklist of things he needed to do in a certain way, so he assumed sex needed to be equally regimented.

Continue reading Episode of the Week: October 13th-October 19th

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.