Lavender Tube :: ’Masters & Johnson’ Premieres on Showtime
Sex and TV have gone hand-in-latex for a very long time, but never quite like they will on Sept. 29, when "Masters of Sex" debuts on Showtime for what purports to be one of the best new series of the fall season. Created by Michelle Ashford ("The Pacific," "John Adams," "Boomtown" - yeah, she’s that good), the series is based on Thomas Maier’s biography "Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson."
The magnificent Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon ) turns Masters into one of the more complex but engaging characters on the small screen, by turns insufferably arrogant and surprisingly amenable. Lizzy Caplan (Mean Girls ), who is never given enough time on any screen, is a most perspicacious and compelling Johnson.
This is such an intriguing yet unlikely premise for a TV series. Someone smoked something very strong, watched some "Mad Men" then some porn, and said, "Masters of Sex!" and this show was born. Yet it works. Smart, poignant, funny, tantalizing, it covers a lot of that uber-male territory mined by "Mad Men," of a repressed era where sex just wasn’t discussed. But unlike the somewhat plodding "Kinsey," which made sex a tedious afterthought, "Masters of Sex" reminds viewers of where we came from - our prudish, unspoken sexual history as a nation. In 1950s America, the very idea that these two people were doing this kind of study was incredible. This series proves for yet another season that Showtime is the new HBO.
And no, we don’t know what happened to the old HBO. There are still a few really good shows that remind us of when HBO was the cable network to best all others, such as "The Newsroom." Jane Fonda was amazing this season as Leona Lansing. 75 is the new diva. She looks magnificent, and she’s as good as she was in the "Klute" days.
When the Emmys nominations were announced we were intrigued by the sheer volume of political shows: "The Newsroom," "Veep," "House of Cards," "Homeland" and "Scandal." Rounding out the list of political shows with an Emmy nod were "The Colbert Report" and "The Daily Show." We loved John Oliver while he subbed for Jon Stewart during Stewart’s sabbatical from "The Daily Show," but now that Stewart is back - well, there’s no one else like him.
Speaking of arch humor, Michael J. Fox is on the cover of TV Guide this week for his new sitcom, which raised a question: How far can we really go with humor? "The Michael J. Fox Show" begins Sept. 26 as part of NBC’s comedy lineup. Fox is funny. Fox is also doing something no one else is doing on the tube: Portraying disability. Before anyone e-mails or tweets us about "Glee," "Push Girls," "Sons of Anarchy" or even "Ironside," what we mean is that Fox is putting his own disability out there, then laughing at it in a scripted series. Aren’t we supposed to cry?
Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1991 at 30, at the height of his career. The aggressive form of the disease he’s afflicted with has forced him into brain surgeries. He’s spoken on Capitol Hill about the need for stem-cell research. And through it all, he’s kept acting. The past two seasons he appeared in a recurring role on CBS’ "The Good Wife," as a somewhat sleazy torts lawyer manipulating his illness to gain sympathy in the courtroom. Now with his own show, Fox makes Parkinson’s the pivot of his comedy. It’s risky. Will we laugh or change the channel?
Only the ratings will tell. But Fox’s (and NBC’s) bold move does put the ball in the viewers’ court: Can we look at a disability we’re positive we would never want to be dealing with in a gazillion years and really laugh? America hides disability from the small and big screens. One in six Americans has some kind of disability, however, so why is it we can count the number of disabled characters we’ve seen on the tube on the fingers of only two hands?
How many people in America are living with HIV/AIDS? Yet that diagnosis is pretty much off the tube as if the disease were over. There was a flurry in the 90s of casting people with development disabilities on the tube, but now the only one is Becky (Lauren Potter) on "Glee." Yet there are more autistic people than ever now. Nicole Kelly, Miss Iowa 2013, who was born without her left arm, was in the Miss America Pageant last weekend, but two characters on scripted TV, Artie in "Glee" and Ironside on "Ironside," are played by non-disabled actors. So we’ll watch the ground being broken on NBC by Fox. A million Americans have Parkinson’s. Fox will be speaking to/for them, but also to every other person in the country with a disability that is largely hidden. It is to be hoped Fox’s show will remind viewers and TV execs that many of us are dealing with some form of disability every day. And we could use some laughs.
Speaking of laughs, we’re pretty sure Fox-TV’s new police sitcom "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" is going to be hilarious. Leading a strong if unusual cast are Andre Braugher, who’s good in everything, and "SNL" alum Andy Samberg. This show has an "The Office" feel to it - mockumentary styling, quirky characters. Tuesdays.
CBS’ "The Millers" looks very funny, with another "SNL" alum, Will Arnett, as a recently divorced man suddenly living with his mother (the amazing Margo Martindale) after his father (Beau Bridges) decides to divorce her. Martindale and Bridges are also recurring in "Masters of Sex." A slew of divorces may not seem to be a funny premise, but Arnett is funny (he deserved a longer stint in the very funny "Up All Night" on NBC) and worth watching. Also starring Jayma Mays ("Glee" ). Premieres Oct. 3.