While it features a lesbian prostitute, a dildo called Ulysses and the relentlessly attractive Teddy Sears (American Horror Story), the premiere of Masters of Sex isn’t nearly as racy as you’d expect. But that’s not a criticism. Instead of simply saucy, Showtime’s new drama about Masters and Johnson’s groundbreaking (and bedspring-straining) study of human sexuality is smart, funny, sad and as engaging as its leading lady, Lizzy Caplan. Here’s how episode 1… er, goes down.
WHAT’S UP, DOC? | In 1956, we meet Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen), a fertility specialist at Washington U’s hospital who’s letting wife Libby believe that she’s barren rather than admit that he’s shooting blanks. (Charmed, I’m sure.) He’s also secretly studying human sexuality with the help of a working girl named Betty. And it’s obvious from the start that he has a lot to learn. (He’s shocked — shocked! — to hear from Betty that not only she but most women fake orgasms. “Though I haven’t checked my clipboard lately,” the wisecracker adds.) What he really needs, she suggests, is a female partner. Enter (so to speak) Virginia Johnson…
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE FOR A GIRL | No sooner has the twice-married ex-nightclub singer (Caplan) started working as a secretary at the hospital than she’s caught Masters’ eye — and landed in bed with his young associate, Ethan Haas. (If I’m not mistaken, this development marks the invention of “friends with bennies.”) She wins over Masters by revealing her theory that love and sex can be mutually exclusive, and Ethan by blowing him on their first date. (A bad idea, that. Keep reading.)
GENERAL HOSPITAL | In no time, Ginny has proven herself indispensable to Bill: After recruiting gal pal Jane Martin from the secretarial pool to be a guinea pig, she suggests philandering Dr. Austin Langham (Sears) for coupling. (“This whole thing feels like Christmas!” the horndog exclaims.) For his part, Bill develops a dildo (the aforementioned Ulysses) that offers a literal window into a woman’s orgasm and manages to strong-arm the college’s Provost, Barton Scully (Beau Bridges), into presenting “smut” — er, his study — to the board for approval. Alas, it isn’t all nudie magazines and happy endings for the duo…
BAD MEDICINE | Ethan’s interest in Ginny — and jealousy of the long hours she spends with Bill — becomes so intense that, if I were her, I’d refer him to the psych ward. Their fling finally ends as quickly as it began, with him slugging her and calling her a whore. (Stay classy, a–hole.) Meanwhile, Bill’s marriage seems to be on ground that’s so shaky, it might as well be sand. (This goes way beyond Libby calling him Daddy all the time… shudder.) Besides the Big Lie that he’s letting her swallow, he won’t look her in the eye during their babymaking attempts and even refuses to fit her with a cervical cap himself. (Ethan does the honors.) And that’s not the worst of it!
HARD WORK | As the hour draws to a close, Bill fabricates some BS about Ginny flirting with Austin so that he can suggest — to safeguard them against transferring any feelings of arousal onto their subjects — that they themselves have sex. This, he insists, will “ensure the longevity of the project.” (It’ll elongate something, anyway.) Ginny wants the weekend to think about it. But, since she wanted to be Bill’s assistant so badly — and, for dramatic purposes, she and Libby are already becoming fast friends — I think we can all probably guess where this is headed, right?
Okay, your turn. What did you think of the premiere? Did it pique your interest? Leave you wanting more? And what did you think of Ginny’s analogy — trying to describe a woman’s orgasm to a man is “like trying to describe salt to someone who’s never tasted salt”? Could you think of a better one? Hit the comments.