Plot: Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) has a brilliant mind for medical science, but he struggles with his own feeling, especially in regards to his own wife Libby (Caitlin Fitzgerald). He has an intense interest in the science behind sexual activities, but has a less than inspiring sex life with his wife, though part of his drive is to better understand how his own sexuality functions under the hood. His desire to research sex in depth has been buried while he proved himself at his own practice, but now he is ready to take the plunge and begin the real work. The kind of research Masters has in mind, real up close examinations of sexual response, would be controversial to say the least, so he keeps his initial work quiet. The process begins as he works with a prostitute, observing her with clients and some information is gleaned, but Masters knows he needs a larger scale, more scientific approach. As he scales up, he encounters Virginia Johnson (Lizzie Caplan), an ambitious and open minded woman who has a family she loves, but she also wants a real career with purpose. The two soon begin more intense research with live subjects, but will their work be allowed to continue or will the puritanical values of the time prove too oppressive?
Entertainment Value: The real life research of Masters & Johnson is well known and filled with interesting anecdotes, so a television show didn’t seem like an odd choice, though Masters of Sex is more soap opera than sexual procedural. As you’d expect, the series takes a lot of liberties with both the experiments themselves and the personal lives of those involved, to the point disclaimers had to be used to ensure potential lawsuits didn’t flow in. So if you want historical accuracy, Masters of Sex won’t deliver, but as a kind of true, but mostly soap opera melodrama, the show is fun to watch and keeps you hooked in. While the show does have a good deal of melodrama, it is of course more grounded and polished than a soap opera, I just liken the two because of the constant drama and personal dysfunction on showcase. A good amount of time is taken to flesh out characters and provide depth to the various narrative threads, so each episode tends to have a lot going on, especially as the series progresses and more of the threads weave into each other. But with four seasons and almost fifty episodes, the stories never feel rushed and there’s a welcome number of shifts, rotating characters and feeding in fresh threads, so things never feel stagnant in the least. I think there’s a good, consistent level of quality to Masters of Sex, as each season has a lot to offer and there’s minimal weak links in the episodes.
As you’d expect from a show that runs four seasons, the cast goes through some changes as time passes, but the core of the show remains intact. Lizzie Caplan and Michael Sheen are the most prominent players here and are always featured, but Caitlin Fitzgerald is right there with them. I think she is easier to overlook since she has a smaller role than the leads, but her character is at the heart of a lot of the storylines, especially once the marriage takes a turn. But even if she isn’t always in the front of our attention, her effort here is excellent, as she makes the most of her scenes and makes even small moments shine, so she deserves immense credit. Sheen is a little bland, but that is how Masters is played here, so it makes sense. His detachment ignites some drama and that’s always welcome, but when he is involved in romantic situations, there’s little chemistry, though again, that could be the point. Caplan fares much better in a fiery role that allows her to convey a wealth of emotions and dive into some deep, still relevant issues. I’d rank her as the driving force of the show, despite Sheen having the more central presence at times, as she tends to steal scenes with ease. The cast of Masters of Sex also includes Beau Bridges, Allison Janney, Rose McIver, Annaleigh Ashford, Teddy Sears, Helene York, Julianne Nicholson, and Greg Grunberg.
The Disc: Mill Creek has issued the complete series on Blu-ray, with the four seasons spread across eight discs. The show looks good, with rock solid detail and depth, though it doesn’t pop off the screen. If you watched this in HD when it was broadcast, this is a comparable presentation and so it looks good, just not a reference level kind of television presentation. The colors are natural and contrast is smooth, with minimal digital issues to contend with. The extras include audio comments on the pilot episode, deleted scenes, and several behind the scenes featurettes. The bullet points might be short, but the content is rather extensive and represents over three hours of supplemental features.