Masters of Sex - Season One

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday June 24, 2014

The Showtime original series "Masters of Sex" gives the modern viewer some of the same era-specific joys as the AMC show "Mad Men" does, though "Master of Sex" is set in the 1950s. It also examines the social attitudes of the time, which had plenty to do with sexual hypocrisy and double standards. Season One of the well-produced, highly enjoyable show is now available on DVD and Blu-ray, in time for Season Two's premiere on July 13.

Based on the 2009 book of the same title by Thomas Maier, the series follows the general outline of history: How Dr. William Masters, a prominent fertility specialist, began collaborating with Virginia Johnson, a single mother whose talent for putting people at ease meshed well with Masters' scientific abilities. The two carried out clinical research into sexual activity that shone a scientific light on the physiological aspects of sex.

Not that Masters and Johnson were paragons: As the series documents, Masters fell in love with Johnson (he later left his first wife for her). Season One doesn't cover this, but for nine years the two ran a program that purported to "cure" gays. (Johnson was never convinced of the authenticity of this, and even thought that Masters might have faked the success rate he claimed.)

Controversial as the subject matter might be, the show does illustrate just how scared about sex even academics were in the Eisenhower era, with university provost Scully (Beau Bridges) presenting obstacles time and again to the hard-headed, ambitious Masters (Michael Sheen) and the compassionate, sensible Johnson (Lizzy Caplan). Bit by bit, science prevails, and the series mines a surprising amount of effective drama from the progress Masters and Johnson achieve and the mistakes they make (they sometimes resort to highly unorthodox methods to gather their data). More complications involve Johnson's romantic entanglement with Masters' protg, Ethan Haas (Nicholas D'Agosto) and the ironic inability of Masters and his wife Libby (Caitlin FitzGerald) to have a child. There's a healthy dose of comic relief, too, in how horndog doctor Austin Langham (Teddy Sears) jumps into the clinical work as a human subject, and streetwise prostitute Jane (Helne Yorke) both assists and manipulates Masters.

The show is sexy, but also sexually smart; rather than being gratuitous, it offers a sweet, sometimes slightly awkward, depiction of human sexuality that's more poignant than smutty. It's also sly about its observations of sexual politics and the dynamics that are always at work between the genders.

Special Features are scattered across the four discs in this home release, and include interviews and in-depth looks at the actors, the show's production, the meaning of the work Masters and Johnson did, and the book it's all based on:

Making Masters of Sex - Disc 1 (NOTE: This featurette contains major spoilers, so don't view this until you've watched the whole season!)

A Masterful Portrayal: Michael Sheen as Dr. Masters - Disc 2

Ahead of Her Time: Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson - Disc 2

The Real Masters: A Conversation with Thomas Maier - Disc 3

Surprising Facts About Sex: The Masters' Great Discoveries - Disc 4

There are also some deleted scenes and an audio commentary track for the pilot episode.

"Masters of Sex: Season One"

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.