Report Card: Was ‘Masters of Sex’ season 1 a successful experiment?
Showtime took a big risk when putting “Masters of Sex” on the air, at least when it comes to this: Despite millions of Americans having no problem at all with death threats, drug use, or people getting their heads cut off on television, they freak out over sexuality. If this show aired at the time in which it is set, there would probably be people trying to burn their TVs.
But after taking a bit of time to allow the entire first season to digest this month, it is pretty clear to us that this is a top five show on television, and one of the strongest overall productions that we’ve seen for a first-year show since the start of “Homeland.” The performances are brilliant, the story well-written, and despite some historical inaccuracies, you remain engrossed in a story that does abide by the spirit of Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson’s journey.
What worked – To us, the most noteworthy thing about the first season is that despite being set in the 1950s, it was not defined by it. The setting was not a crutch or a distraction, and instead aided the characters. Michael Sheen is instantly a favorite to compete against Bryan Cranston this year at various award shows, and Lizzy Caplan could also be a heavy contender. But don’t over look either Beau Bridges and Allison Janney as the Provost and his wife. If they don’t submit under the supporting or guest categories we’d be disappointed.
Thematically, what the show did so great was to present sex as something that is in some ways scientific (as Masters often sees it), but also something more. It was a complicated character in its own right in which every one of the characters had some sort of relationship with.
What didn’t – There is not much that can be offered in the way of genuine criticism here, save for maybe that there were times that the story was a little subtle, and that it took a while to get going in a few episodes. However, a good counter-argument for that is that real life can feel slow and plodding, and like “Mad Men,” this tone makes the big moments all the more astounding. Virginia’s children and family is probably the only real flaw in the first season, mostly in the first half as they popped in and out of the series almost by convenience.
Overall – We are really nit-picking when it comes to some of those problems, since “Masters of Sex” is a wonderful show. Showtime has to be thrilled that even though “Homeland” slipped this year in terms of quality, they found a show that is just as capable of being an award-season monster. Plus, they have a story that can be told here still for many years to come. Grade: A.