I normally don’t read reviews of a show before I watch it.
I’ve tried it before and I found myself looking for reasons to agree with the reviewer. If the reviewer had nothing but sneers, I wanted to sneer along. If the reviewer loved it, I kept looking for the gold.
I read Flavorwire‘s review of Masters of Sex before I ever watched it, and I actually found myself looking for reasons to disagree with their distaste for this show. I guess I felt bad for it. When I first heard the concept, I desperately wanted the show to be good, to be (as Flavorwire perfectly put it) Mad Men from Peggy’s perspective.
No such luck.
This show leaves nothing to like. The show’s namesake is a flat, dry man who seems to hate everything and everyone he comes across–his lack of charisma is possibly supposed to be humorous or humanizing, but it just feels like more jerk behavior. The heroine, Virginia Johnson (played by a continually wide-eyed and tight-lipped Lizzy Caplan) seems so determined to be a part of the sex study (for reasons unclear) that she seems to be willfully ignorant of Masters’ awfulness. As for the other characters? They’re either flat or woefully under-explored.
And the plotlines. Will the study be at the hospital or won’t it (does it matter?) Masters is (gasp) a lying asshole who treats his wife for fertility problems she doesn’t have, just to put off having a baby. Virginia is some sort of magical sex nymph that beguiles all men she comes across. We’re to believe that Masters is obsessed with her, as evidenced by the fact that he asks her to be a part of the study with him (ya know, do it.) So very dull, so very flat. Even the style of the show doesn’t feel complete the way Mad Men does.
Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan are so much better than this. They can act the part they need to be acting; he can be dry but lovable, she could handle being grounded, determined, adaptable and fierce.
I don’t get the sense that Masters or Johnson are discovering anything. The research itself feels like an aside, a necessary device to allow the writers to create unrelated contrived events. Even when people are naked onscreen and miming sex acts, nothing feels risque or particularly exciting for the viewer. I get that it’s not really supposed to titillate, but what these people are doing is revolutionary for the time period; there should be some feeling created for the viewer that what’s happening is new, exciting and thrilling. Instead, you’re just mourning what could’ve been.