Hey TV.com, Should I Watch Masters of Sex?


Even though the broadcast networks get most of the press at beginning of the fall TV season, cable channels aren't afraid to trot out new shows around this time as well. With Dexter off Showtime's schedule forever (hopefully), the network is more than ready to debut its Next Great Drama Series in Masters of SexBut as far as recent Showtime originals go, is the provocatively titled newbie more like Homeland or Ray Donovan? I'm here to help you answer that question in the latest edition of Tell Me What to Watch, TV.com! 


Masters of Sex? Showtime's doing a live action drama about He-Man?

Well, close. Set in the mid-1950s, Masters of Sex focuses on the work of Dr. William Masters, a regionally famous OB/GYN at Washington University in St. Louis who wants to research human sexuality. Masters meets quite a bit of resistance from the higher-ups at the hospital and university, leading to a whole lot of time spent in brothels, but he finds a willing assistant in former lounge singer and single mom Virginia Johnson. The two take on the project in secret, drumming up various personal frustrations along the way. 



Who are the aforementioned Masters, and who created their show?

The lovely Michael Sheen (Frost/NixonThe Special Relationship30 Rock, and a slew of other things) plays the brilliant and kinda curmudgeonly Masters, and the even lovelier Lizzy Caplan (Party Down, Freaks and Geeks, the internet's dreams) is the curious and sexually open Johnson. Beau Bridges toplines a recurring cast full of somewhat-recognizable people including Caitlin Fitzgerald, Nicholas D'Agosto, Teddy Sears, and Annaleigh Ashford. The show was created by Michelle Ashford, who previously worked on The Pacific and John Adams. It's based on Thomas Maier's biography of the lead characters, Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson


When does Masters of Sex start getting down?

The show debuts this Sunday, September 29 at 10pm on Showtime, right after the Season 3 premiere of Homeland (and at just about the same time as the final act of Breaking Bad ever). The network announced that Masters of Sex would get this timeslot a long time ago, as it hopes that Homeland can create new hits on its own now. We'll see.


What other shows are like Masters of Sex

That's a tremendous question. Without being too hyperbolic, I'd suggest that Masters of Sex is mostly unlike the pay-cable, gritty, anti-hero stuff we've all grown accustomed to over the last decade-plus. You might think of making a Mad Men comparison because of the historical period, but Masters of Sex isn't as internal, or as bleak. And although it's a two-hander like many other shows we've seen recently (The KillingThe AmericansThe BridgeBroadchurch), there's no murder investigation. Masters of Sex won't feel unfamiliar to you, but it's not your typical cable drama. 



What parts of Masters of Sex will (ahem) excite me?

Almost everything. The show isn't quite as interested in the meticulous period details that drive Mad Men, but it makes great use of the time period as far as cultural perceptions of sex and sexuality go. I've seen the first few episodes, and one of the show's strengths is that the subject matter never railroads the story in any way. This is a premium-cable series about sex and sex research, so sure, there's a whole lot of nudity and plenty of amusing asides about the general prudishness of the time, but it never feels like those things are used egregiously. Because of their roles as researchers, Masters and Johnson often talk while other people are having sex, which is a fun spin on sexposition. But in general, Masters of Sex plays everything straight, from Masters' professional challenges to Johnson's personal ones, and to great effect.

It helps that the two leads are fantastic. Michael Sheen could've easily turned in an over-the-top, showy performance, speechifying about his character's work and all that. That would've been fine, I'm sure, but it's so much better to see him really dig into Masters' psyche to create a character that's taking on this big research project at least partially because he's as personally frustrated with sex as he is professionally confused. Lizzy Caplan more than holds her own as Virginia Johnson, a woman who has desires and dreams and who isn't really afraid to do whatever to achieve them. It's nice to see Caplan finally playing a clearly defined adult. Together, she and Sheen have the type of great unresolved sexual tension that makes audiences go nuts. 



What isn't so satisfying about Masters of Sex?

Although the supporting cast is pretty strong, once the show starts following various characters outside of the study, it's simply not as compelling. Upcoming episodes suggest some lame stuff with Masters' family history, but the larger world is still solid. Other than that? Not a whole lot. I mean, unless you don't like watching people have simulated sex, or dildos with cameras on them. If that's the case, maybe this show isn't for you.


So, should I watch this sucker or not?

Absolutely. Masters of Sex is, without question, the best new series of the fall; it's not even close (sorry, Marvel fans). The show is smart, straightforward, well-acted, and very well-produced. And perhaps best of all, at least at this early stage, it has the confidence to just tell the stories it wants to tell, without piling on some of the more familiar (read: tired) cable drama tropes. 


Can I see a trailer?

You can actually watch the entire pilot on YouTube right now (embedding is disabled), so you can determine whether you're into it BEFORE Breaking Bad ruins your weekend/life with its series finale. But if you don't have the time before Sunday and just want a taste, here's a trailer:




Masters of Sex premieres Sunday, September 29 at 10pm on Showtime, right after the Season 3 premiere of Homeland.


Comments (107)
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Sep 29, 2013
Premiers this Sunday? I have seen the first 2 episodes!!!!!!
Its different, its good, its a time piece! Not sure if it has enough to keep people interested, but it is quite different from other shows, I liked it and will continue to see where it leads!
Most conservative people will be uncomfortable with this, but thats America, we don't like being uncomfortable, unless its a meth cooking HS teacher!
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Sep 29, 2013
I hate to ask, but where are people seeing the second episode?
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Sep 29, 2013
I want to want to watch this, but the subject matter just makes me too uncomfortable, and I'm thinking a lot of America will feel the same
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Sep 28, 2013
2 episodes in and wow baby! this show is really really good
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Sep 28, 2013
I ve already watched two episodes and they are great. of course it's appropriate show for Showtime (sex, nudity, dramedy) but it doesn't look like typical Showtime show, it overcomes usual tropes of this cable (californication and the like).
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Sep 28, 2013
I've watched the first episode but it didn't seem SO fantastic. Everything was moving along nicely, acting and script were great. And a cable production is always way better that a network production, everything seemed of the highest quality.

But something was lacking.. It didn't seem to be very exciting or intriguing. I didn't get the "omg I NEED to see the second episode" feeling.

Anyway that's just the first episode. And such shows usually become amazing once they have had time to flesh out, develop its characters a little, expand the world. So I'll watch and see what happens.
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Sep 28, 2013
Exactly what was not needed - another hyped show about sex and nudity, pervy men and whores... *yawn*
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Sep 28, 2013
Was going to watch the pilot and then I got "Not available in your country." Fuck yourselves. The show might be good but I won't know.
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Sep 28, 2013
I've watched the pilot already and it was great! I really cant't wait for the next episode. And I agree, so far this is the best new show of the season
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Sep 28, 2013
Sunday is such a difficult night for television to add this on top as well. Even with Dexter and Breaking Bad ending, with Boardwalk Empire, Homeland, and Revenge, and then The Walking Dead in a couple of weeks, there's no way I'd be able to watch this until the following weekend if I deciced to tune in.
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Sep 28, 2013
if something called "Masters of Sex" can succeed, what do "Trophy Wife" and "Cougar Town" really have to worry about?

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Sep 28, 2013
Masters and Johnson are sort of famous historical figures for pioneering sex research.
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Sep 28, 2013
the scientist is called Masters, also in real life, in case it helps
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Sep 28, 2013
Cory, you're done reviewing Dexter, you can stop telling everyone how bad it is now.

I really want to like this, because I'm a Showtime fan (Homeland, Ray Donovan and Californication are among my favourite shows), but I'm afraid the subject matter is a big turn off for me, which is surprising, because its made me realise that I'm perhaps a bit more conservative then I'd like to admit. Period pieces don't do it for me either unfortunately.

You say that the show is satisfying 'unless you don't like watching people have simulated sex, or dildos with cameras on them. If that's the case, maybe this show isn't for you'. I like watching this stuff enough as the next guy, but can I handle watching a show that has decided to base its entire premise off of this? It's okay to have a scene or two or this stuff in a general cable program, but I doubt I can handle an entire series about it.

The best new fall show, you say, Cory? That's some big words... We'll wait and see, I guess.
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Sep 28, 2013
Premise not really based on watching people have simulated sex. Based on one of the most interesting stories in the history of science. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masters_and_Johnson
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Sep 28, 2013
I think it is quite obvious that the producers of this show wanted to exploit the sex factor as much as it was allowed (and I mean the nude people having sex and the dildos and such, because there is more about sex in the show) and I think it will probably get some extra viewers just for that.

But honestly, if sex was going to be the main subject of any show, this is the best context. One of the two leads is a scientist, and with all these people excited around, he's trying to put some order in the data. That's the premise of the show. And under that premise, different issues that relate to sex in a way or another are treated. Maternity is very present too, for starters. There are women that cannot get pregnant and are being treated by the doctors there, including Masters own wife, with all the drama that follows, and reminding us (if we are focused enough among so many naked people) that studying sexual reactions has great importance for everybody. Not just for Dr. Masters.

The role of women in society is also quite the subject here, since Johnsons is being shut down by people all the time because she is putting her job first, and she has two children. It is quite shocking at points because we can see how things might not have changed so much as we think from the 50s.

I have to say, I was totally against this before I watched the pilot. The release of the pilot before hand was a really good thing for the show, i think.
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Sep 28, 2013
Lizzie Caplan was Millie, right? Anyone find this new role massively ironic?
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Sep 28, 2013
This isn't my normal type of show, but I LOVE Michael Sheen so I gave the pilot a try and I must say, I was pleasantly surprised. Now if only I had cable so I could watch the rest of the series...
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Sep 28, 2013
wow, wht a recommendation, might catch it up then
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Sep 27, 2013
So much about this looks great but I've hated Michael Sheen in almost everything he's been in, he's such a hammy actor. I think it was only The Damned United that I found him any good. I hope you doesn't ruin this.
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Sep 28, 2013
Weird. I've loved him in everything I've seen him in (especially Underworld! One of my favorites). Personally, I think Unthinkable and Music Within are two of his best.
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Sep 28, 2013
Not sheen much of Sheen's work other than underworld and Damned United.
Well Underworld is..underworld, cannot expect acting there!!!
He was damn good in Damn United IMO.
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Sep 27, 2013
"Not even Lizzy Caplan can make me tune in."

Does not compute!
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Sep 27, 2013
Am i the only one who hates the title. Its not a bad title is just that you cant go up to people and say "did you watch Masters of Sex" or "I love Masters of Sex" without sounding like a perve.
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Sep 27, 2013
You are not the only one. It will definitely turn people off, which is too bad because it was very good.
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Sep 27, 2013
I watched the pilot and was surpriced how depressing it was. The reproductive sex Masters has with his wife is so bad. I mean, it can be bad, having to have sex on command, but that's just three days a month, the rest is fun. And letting his wife believe she's the reproductivelly challenged one. Then that other doctor guy, beating up Ginny. And Masters making such an unpleasant pass at her at the end. Don't get me wrong - I agree this show is a cut above the rest this fall (and I am a Marvel fan), I just thought it will be a tiny wee bit more adventurous. Dunno why, now that I come to think of it. Maybe cause I live in the day and age when we actually agree sex is supposed to be fun?
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Sep 27, 2013
even today people have that type of sex when they want to get pregnant and go through the same type of tension and couple problems...
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Sep 28, 2013
I know, I spoke from experience, but like I said - that's just three days of the month. The rest can be normal, fun stuff.
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Sep 28, 2013
I don't know what to tell you, I didn't see anything depressing in this show, and there was a lot of sex for fun.
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Sep 27, 2013
Lizzy Caplan will make me watch the first episode, after that it has to be very good.
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Sep 27, 2013
Saw the first episode- loved it!
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Sep 27, 2013
Biased on the first 2 episodes Id say OHH yes, yes, ohhh, yesssss.
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Sep 27, 2013

Stop Dissing Ray Donovan. I feel MOS is going to be a great show and can't wait to start reading the Haters comments.
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Sep 27, 2013
I have seen 2 episodes of it already and I must say it is as good as what Cory mentioned. It is the best new show this Fall.

I liked that some of the motivation of the main characters are NOT clearly said but its easier to infer. I do not know how much the show follow the biography it is based on but the 2 main characters are really very interesting people especially considering it was the 50s.

Beside the 2 leads, Beau Bridges is also fantastic in this show and the actress playing the prostitute in the 1st 2 episodes is also very good.

The story moves along so you would not find it boring even if you don't enjoy shows about sex.
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Sep 27, 2013
I watched the pilot, and I enjoyed it. I wouldn't call it exciting, but not boring either. I did find it interesting, and I'm looking forward to seeing more episodes. Lizzy Caplan is a joy to watch.
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Sep 27, 2013
One thing that bothers me about period pieces like these shot in the 21st century is how fit most of the actors are when they get down to their skivvies and beyond. People in the '50s, '60s, and '70s could be trim as a railspike and still have awful, pudgy bodies. At least the giant undergarments convey that look still.

- This comment brought to you by the committee to comment on the absolute least-important aspect of an article.
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Sep 27, 2013
It's worse with women having breast implants. I could be wrong, but didn't Jessica Marais have them in Magic City? Did women have access to those in 1959?
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Sep 28, 2013
Well, yes, sort of, but not the same. They injected fillers back then. Took a few more years until they put the filler in a bag and it really became a proper implant.
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Sep 28, 2013
Yeah, and people DIED from injecting silicone into their bodies (mainly the Japanese prostitutes who found drums of the stuff left behind by the American forces after WWII and started the silicone implants trend). Modern "bag" silicone breast implants weren't invented until 1961 and used until the year following.

As for Jessica Marais, there's a mountain of press claiming she got the job because of her natural breasts, but looking at the research, holy crap are they orbs and they have no hang at all and high nipples and even in some shots they have double-boob, that's all signs of an implant, I can see why it'd be distracting.
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Sep 28, 2013
I didn't see any evidence of the double boob. That would imply an over the muscle insertion. I have no idea how that would get past the casting director.
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Sep 28, 2013
I hate implants. I can understand some reasons why a woman would do it, but still... There was also the girlfriend of the thief guy who stole the photos on the show that had them and were more obvious.

I enjoyed your Marais analysis though, Professor. Those spectacles magnify a lot don't they?
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Sep 28, 2013
Indeed they did, and are dying in the U.S. again due to black market ass injections. Which is silly, because there is such a thing as medical grade silicone, which might kill you (the debate rages on), but over a period of decades.
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Sep 27, 2013
If only every period piece had Daniel Day-Lewis playing all the parts. Then JT would have nothing to complain about.
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Sep 28, 2013
We need more movies with Daniel Day-Lewis playing ridiculous, over-the-top nude people. And by "more" I mean "less". *shudder*
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Sep 27, 2013
I liked it. I really liked it. Caplan is superb and so is Sheen. They are showing and adhering to proper testing procedure and I like that because, well it bleeds over from my job. But I think they are representing the actual Dr. Masters and Virginia Johnson very well. It is kind of sad that Ms. Johnson passed before she could see the show. I think she would have liked it. But I am in for the duration, it is fascinating work especially during the time that they did this.

And if anyone is just a closet nerd like myself here are their major studies if you want to look them up and read them.


-Masters, William H., Virginia E. Johnson. Human Sexual Response. Toronto; New York: Bantam Books, 1966.

-Masters, William H., Virginia E. Johnson. Human Sexual Inadequacy. Toronto; New York: Bantam Books, 1970.

-Masters, William H., Virginia E. Johnson. The Pleasure Bond. Toronto; New York: Bantam Books, 1974.

-Masters, William H., Virginia E. Johnson, and Robert C. Kolodny. Ethical Issues in Sex Therapy and Research. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1977.

-Masters, William H., Virginia E. Johnson. Homosexuality in Perspective. Toronto; New York: Bantam Books, 1979.

-Masters, William H., Virginia E. Johnson, and Robert C. Kolodny. Masters and Johnson on Sex and Human Loving. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1986.

-Masters, William H., Virginia E. Johnson, and Robert C. Kolodny. Heterosexuality. New York: Gramercy Books, 1994.
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Sep 28, 2013
Thanks for bibliography, this sort of academic stuff isn't usually my foray, but the premise of the show, and their work, sounds really fasincating to me.
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Sep 27, 2013
Well she only died a few weeks ago, right? So I'm assuming Showtime sent her an early preview of it, considering it's about her.
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Sep 27, 2013
I believe it was the end of July. So I have no idea if she did or not. Not sure when Showtime stopped shooting and when it was all finished. I would like to think that she did.
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Sep 27, 2013
Watched this online, it's certainly interesting ;-)
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Sep 27, 2013
The show is good. I don't like history things because you already know how they end, basically. And that's not very cool for me. But I watched 2 episodes of this already (*cough*) and it is worth the time.
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Sep 27, 2013
Watched the pilot last week and I already added it to the shows I'll be watching this fall!
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Sep 27, 2013
I've seen the pilot, and thought it was very good. I especially liked the way the women were portrayed. Too often female characters are either irrational/hysterical or man-eaters or some other exaggerated type, but the women on this show were very recognizable as real people.
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Sep 28, 2013
yes. the show so far has 3 stellar female characters!
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Sep 27, 2013
You forgot to mention what we should be drinking while watching it....
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Sep 27, 2013
whatever puts you in the mood.
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Sep 27, 2013
I've seen the first two episodes and while the first episode does suffer from a bit of pilotitis (too much unfortunately-necessary exposition), the second episode picks up and does well.

I just don't recommend looking up what eventually happens to Masters and Johnson.
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Sep 28, 2013
They both lived into their late 80s. They were married 21 years. They contributed significantly to the world. We should all be so lucky.
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Sep 27, 2013
Are you referring to that time they were burned at the stake as witches? Or the whole "let's turn homos into heteros" thing? Or their marriage and subsequent divorce? Or the fact that they're both dead now?
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Sep 28, 2013
Well maybe if the show has all of those things, I'll watch.
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Sep 28, 2013
The first metaphorical, the second possible but doubtful, the third you get the reverse, which is more exciting: a divorce so there can be a marriage. The last, probably not since it won't go 50 seasons.
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Sep 29, 2013
Oh, I didn't mean to imply it didn't happen, only that they would probably not cover it because it didn't start until almost 1970.
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Sep 29, 2013
I'm pretty sure Johnson admitted to the conversion therapy...specifically that it was Masters' idea and she didn't support it as much.
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Sep 28, 2013
Well played, safibwana.
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Sep 27, 2013
Take your pick.
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Sep 27, 2013
I'm not sure, but I LOVE Michael Sheen so much that I have been excited for this since it was first announced. Hopefully it is good enough to keep me tuning in.
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Sep 27, 2013
I saw the pilot about a week ago and found it pretty damn boring overall. I think it had mostly to do with Michael Sheen's character, Masters, having zero charisma or... warmth? He's just a nerdy robot.

Good news for those of you smitten with Lizzy Caplan, who maybe like me assumed she wouldn't do nudity... she does!

The premise is still interesting and the plot seems to suggest that maybe Masters will develop more emotion as the series progresses, so I'll keep watching for now.
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Sep 28, 2013
Why didn't Cory just say that Caplan took her clothes off??? It would have made me a lot more inclined to watch...
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Sep 27, 2013
Caplan bared it all on 'True Blood' and 'Party Down' why would anyone assume she doesn't do nudity? ;)
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Sep 28, 2013
Because when an actress becomes enough of a star they tend to stop doing that.
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Sep 27, 2013
I have dealt with Doctors like Dr. Masters my whole entire educational career and currently in my actual career. I would say Sheen's portrayal of Masters, especially in that time is probably pretty spot on. Many Doctors are nerdy robots.

But if they are adhering to the history. He does lighten up.
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Sep 28, 2013
I haven't seen the pilot but the premise doesn't interest me but there have been lots of shows where the plot sounded stupid and I actually ended up loving the show. I'll have to see the pilot to make a decision.

Off topic:
"Many Doctors are nerdy robots."
at least you said "many"...I would say "some". Many in primary care are morons imo and many in private practice aren't up to date on current guidelines/recommendations. I know some very intelligent yet "cool" MDs in academics but I'm referring to the ones who are primarily clinical and not researched based (some research but most time spent doing clinical duties and teaching).
Hmm, can one be a nerdy cool disinhibited robot? lol
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Sep 28, 2013
Sure they can. I would change it to some. Especially perhaps in the present time when there isn't such a stigma that Doctors of any type had to live up to, so to speak, or well a demeanor that was expected of them from their colleagues in that time. Professional, standoffish to patients etc. I probably fit more into yours. Though, many of my colleagues think I am verifiably insane. But that is because they aren't very fun and have no desire for risk taking.
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Sep 28, 2013
Yay, I'm not the only one consider "insane" by colleagues;-)
I'm never standoffish but I can consciously shut down emotions if I don't have a prior relationship with the person/patient.
I completely agree with you about how the historical context affects professional behavior. Many of the physicians I know have tattoos and dress stylishly (not conservative) however prior to current times, most MDs were paternalistic and aloof....
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Sep 27, 2013
I'd say if you're worried about Sheen's character being a stiff, the second episode does some nice things to modulate that. That's who Master is (was, apparently), and that's the arc. Worthwhile to stick with it.
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Sep 27, 2013
She did a lot in True Blood when she was on, I assumed she would.
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Sep 27, 2013
Ah, damn. Another reason why I should have been watching True Blood. Oh well.
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Sep 28, 2013
She was only in season 2. So maybe you should just watch that one.
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Sep 27, 2013
Really that would be the only reason. You could limit your watching to her episodes. I am sure there is a list somewhere on the net.
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Sep 27, 2013
There was something else I saw her in that she did as well! I remember on True Blood thinking, "Oh, she won't... Oh, lookie there..."
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Sep 27, 2013
I watched the pilot on YouTube, and I'm sorry, it is NOT the best new drama of the year. It's pretty boring, to tell you the truth. Maybe it gets better in later episodes, but the premiere is pretty dull. Which is crazypants, given that the topic alone should make it at least seem exciting. Great performances, for sure, but still dullsville.
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Sep 27, 2013
Boring? Really? why though?
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Sep 28, 2013
Because clinical research isn't exciting? And nothing blows up and there's no angels or werewolves?
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Sep 30, 2013
Yes, definitely. If there's aren't angels or werewolves in a TV show, it's absolutely worthless. Which is why I have never watched an episode of The Vampire Diaries, but do watch The Newsroom, The Good Wife, Parenthood, etc. Oh, assumptions. Fun times.

Cory- it's probably just my personal tastes. I feel like it kind of rushed making her the assistant and her being totally okay with the subject matter, instead of getting that "Wow, I'm working on something really exciting but also a little outside the mainstream and could probably lose my job if this goes the wrong way," feel. It also felt rushed in the way Nick D'Agosto's character fell for Ginny.

I don't know. I feel like something dealing with research of sex in a time when sex wasn't really discussed in polite society should feel a bit more risque and riskier than this felt.

I'm not saying it's a bad show, mind you- it's just not a must-see for me based on the the first episode. Hopefully the second episode will hook me.
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Sep 30, 2013
I wasn't making any assumptions about you. I was making a declaration about the need for angels and/or werewolves.
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Sep 27, 2013
I watched the pilot and loved it!!!!! Very well done!
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Sep 27, 2013
I have no doubt that this review is accurate and that the show will be very well done. Even so, I think I'll pass. I don't know if it's that the premise doesn't seem particularly compelling to me or that I'm not overly fond of "period pieces" set anytime after the '30s to '40s but it just has no pull for me at all.

I'm trying hard to watch less TV, not more, and this seems like an easy one not to kick myself over for having skipped.

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Sep 27, 2013
The period isn't OVERLY relevant past the larger context. It's not like they stand around saying DAMN, IT'S 1957 UP IN HERE. But fair enough.
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Sep 28, 2013
>It's not like they stand around saying DAMN, IT'S 1957 UP IN HERE.

That happened to me once, but it was during a meeting with my Republican congressman, and unfortunately it was the 1990s, so the whole thing was very uncomfortable.
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Sep 27, 2013
I hear you. Call me silly (not really) but that's one of the reasons I also never had any interest in Mad Men, even if the era isn't much of a factor.
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