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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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1956. William Masters is a doctor working at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Masters is a brilliant researcher in the field of fertility but is also working on a more pioneering project: the first-ever detailed study of the biology of human sexuality. With his superiors scandalised by the project, Masters recruits singer-turned-secretary Virginia Johnson to assist him.

Masters of Sex is a show based around an interesting, but surely limited, premise: what happened when the first American doctor tried to investigate the real biological processes involved during sex? Given this was the mid-1950s when homosexuality was still illegal, censors had a big problem with Elvis Presley's hips and society was dumbfounded when a woman expressed a desire to have a career, the answer is scandal, outrage and secrecy. It took a full decade for Masters and Johnson to finally publish their findings in the more liberal and free-swingin' 1960s, as they waited for society to catch up to the point where it could handle the facts their study revealed.

As the show starts that's a far bit off in the future. Instead, it initially comes across as a sexier version of Mad Men, with the furnishings, fashions and cars of the 1950s recreated with impeccable precision and the mores and limitations of society of the time evoked and then cast down thanks to the freedom of cable television, namely nudity and sex. You may have gathered from the premise that there's a lot flesh on display in this series and this is the case, although probably nowhere near as much as some were expecting. Masters of Sex is a show about sex and desire, but it's even more about the impact it has on people, its use as a motivation or goal and the hypocrisises of a society that is both defined by it but also likes to pretend it doesn't exist.

These complexities are realised fully by the actors. We already knew that Michael Sheen was one of the best actors of his generation, but just in case there was any doubt he completely knocks it out of the park in his portrayal of Masters. Masters is a buttoned-up figure who is a lot more complex and conflicted than it first appears. He proclaims his belief that sex is a purely biological process with scientific processes behind it and that love and emotion does not necessarily play a role, but he then expresses disgust with the notion of homosexuality (something the triggers some later self-analysis) and develops problems separating his own feelings from the work. He has a difficult relationship with his wife Libby (a soulful performance by Caitlin Fitzgerald), being cold and distant despite her warmth and attentiveness, but develops an interest in Virgina when she earns his respect through applying herself to the study in a serious manner. Sheen does sterling work throughout the series, making Masters constantly sympathetic and understandable even when he's acting like an insensitive fool (which is about two-thirds of the time).

Playing against him and more than holding her own is Lizzy Caplan. Caplan has been building up a good body of work in supporting roles in various projects over the last decade or so, but Masters of Sex is finally the big break-out role she was waiting for. Virginia Johnson is a modern woman trapped in the wrong time period: a young woman forced by circumstance (separating from her boorish, unreliable boyfriend and the father of her two children) and will into developing a career of her own at a time when this was extremely rare. Johnson's role is contrasted against that of Dr. DePaul (Julianne Nicholson), a woman who has made it in the male-dominated world of medicine but only at the expense of having any kind of family life and still struggles to get respect or her projects funded. Initially the two women develop an adversarial relationship, but later on find themselves joining forces, united in their exasperation of the world.

A galaxy of fine supporting actors prop up the central cast. Beau Bridges is the sort of actor you call on to appear as an avuncular authority figure, which he does well here as the university provost and Masters's mentor, but the writers then make him a closeted gay man struggling with his identity and with his relationship with his wife and daughter. It's a more angsty role than it first appears and Bridges plays it to the hilt, seemingly enjoying stretching his range. Allison Janney gives a terrific performance as his wife, who is initially horrified at discovering her husband's infidelity but then feels liberated by it to pursue her own life.

Masters of Sex (*****) is a clever show, exploring gender issues, social mores and how people are defined by their desires through the central premise. It's deftly-characterised and filmed with real attention to period detail. It's also extremely funny at times, gut-wrenchingly tragic at others and always fascinating to watch. It also ties with Game of Thrones for the best title sequence currently on television.
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on 19 February 2017
Sheen is stunning
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on 24 May 2017
Thank you.
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on 21 July 2017
great show not much else to say
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on 31 January 2017
As advertsied
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 June 2014
I watched this on Channel 4 and it was excellent. Michael Sheen is great in everything but he excels in his role as the very serious Dr Bill Masters. He hires Virginia Johnson (Lizzie Caplan) as his Secretary. Virginia is a modern woman very in touch with her sexual self! Bill is married and he and his wife are trying for a baby. What comes to light in that respect makes the viewer see Bill as a rather cold and calculating individual. The fact this story is based on real life couple Williams and Johnson makes you realise that somewhere in the coming Seasons, Bill's poor wife is going to get terribly hurt. In fact quite a few characters will be effected by Masters and Johnson's actions.

Masters wants to know what happens to the body during sex. He is not exactly personable with the people he enlists to take part in his study. Realising Virginia is a people person, he enlists her as his Assistant. They begin experiments on prostitutes, anonymous couples and single men and women and observe their bodies responses during sex and masturbation. There are lots of sexual scenes in this series but nothing offensive. As the series progresses you sense Bill becoming attracted and intrigued by Virginia. I didn't sense Virginia reciprocating with the attraction until near the end of the series but by then, she has befriended his wife so as I said before, I'm beginning to feel sorry for his wife especially as it's based on a true story. After a while of experimenting on others, Bill and Virginia decide to participate in their own study, having sex with each other and monitoring their responses. I did feel the chemistry between them. Lizzy Caplan is fantastic in her role as Virginia. She's super confident and I loved it when she stood up to Bill.

There are lots of different characters, all of them interesting but the stand out side character for me was Margaret Scully. She is married to Bill's mentor. Without spoiling anything, there is a really moving and poignant storyline involving this couple. The actress who plays Margaret gives a stunning performance. Beau Bridges plays her husband Scully and although I didn't like his characters actions, he plays a great part.

I'm not sure if many people overlooked this when it was on TV but if you did, then buy the DVD and be prepared to be amazed at a great storyline and superb acting. There is humour, sex and sadness. I'm eagerly awaiting series 2 but can't find a date for it as yet.
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on 7 August 2014
This is the first season of a show based on the real life studies of Dr Williams Masters and Virginia Johnson. Alongside being a gynaecologist, Masters started an illicit study of the secrets and science behind sex; everything you wanted to know but were too afraid to ask. In some ways, the show is similar to The X Files in that two mavericks, who are perfectly capable of doing an excellent job in a role that conforms, are dedicated to work which is controversial and laughed at yet it reveals hidden truths.

It goes without saying that the show has sexual content but it doesn't feel exploitative. The real interest of the show is Masters (Michael Sheen) and Johnson's (Lizzy Caplin) passion for their work and how this shared passion draws them to each other. It could be any branch of knowledge but the fact that it is a study of sex adds even more layers. What is real and what is science? The relationship between Masters and Johnson is a great slow burn, built on the profound level of a shared understanding- despite their very different personalities. Michael Sheen plays Masters' starchy attitude and personal struggles very effectively (that's the British speciality after all!). However because the character is so unlikeable, the show needs Caplin's warmness and feisty spirit.

One interesting thing the show does is to remove the rose-tinted spectacles with which we view 'the olden days'. Whilst they did wear some nice dresses in the fifties, it was a time when people had to rigidly conform to prejudice and women had to conform to gender rules that had been set by men. The show's tone is not preachy though; it has the right amount of tongue-in-cheek humour to make the science interesting.

Where the show is less interesting is in its secondary characters and conflicts. I did think Masters' boss's (Beau Bridges) struggle with his homosexuality was interesting but some of the younger pretty characters felt a bit weak and 'unreal', such as the character of young doctor Ethan (Nicholas D'Agosto). D'Agosto just feels too modern to convince as a sexually naive young man.

Also, twelve episodes is too much and the show felt dragged out at times. Seven or even eight episodes would have made it punchier; I found that as much as I enjoyed the episodes whilst watching them, I could easily miss them.

Now Season 2 has just started and the premise has been set-up, I hope that the concept of the love story between people who have an intellectual bond will be even more central.
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on 24 November 2016
not great
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on 6 November 2015
I did not like it
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on 14 August 2015
fantastic. gripping throughout the entire series.
superb acting and story. a great insight as to how medical science used to be and how talking and explaining sex in that era was not the done thing. a typical insight into how the world was run by men and their attitudes towards women and families were.
a cliffhanger ending glad I have series two to watch as this one was so engrossing.
a great, super must see series. cannot rate it highly enough
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