MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., October 1, 2013 – Showtime began airing its controversial new series “Masters of Sex” this past Sunday, September 29. In advance of the formal premiere, an ongoing promotion let subscribers see the pilot episode before it officially aired. It also encourages those that are not subscribers to join.
If you like quality shows, this pitch might be a good idea, and critics and viewers of the initial episode would seem to agree. Variety notes that in Sunday’s Nielsens, “’Masters of Sex’ averaged 1 million viewers in its regular timeslot and a cume of 1.4 million for its two airings — on par with the opening-night tally for ‘Homeland.’”
“Masters of Sex” leaves no doubt that cable channels are willing to take chances and present material that is more edgy. This series sure qualifies in this aspect. The material is raw and under any definition suitable only for a mature audience.
It is not just the plot of the show, the study of sexual intercourse, that has drawn viewer interest, but also the nudity that is properly shown to further the story arc.
In the 1950s when the action begins, people knew a lot about how babies were born but nothing about how they were made (paraphrasing a line in the first episode). Doctor William Masters, a nationally acclaimed obstetrician at the Washington University School of Medicine in Saint Louis, decides to begin research on the physical effects of sex on humans. At first, he is not taken seriously and university management is reluctant to support his efforts. Perception of the research by some of his colleagues is that it is simply smut. Masters maintains that it is science.
The pilot episode—the initial episode in season one—is full of drama. This includes the introduction of Virginia Johnson, Masters’ assistant, and her individualistic and controversial lifestyle. She glides from working as a professional singer into becoming an administrative clerk to Masters’ assistant. Her affair with one of Masters’ physician colleagues is frankly presented.
For his part, Masters is also dealing with personal problems that add drama to the plot. His insensitivity and ego look to be causing major problems in his own marriage. His wife, apparently quite submissive as was often expected in the 1950s, appears to resign herself to the Masters’ will.
The initial episode and those that follow also hint at the racial tensions in our country in that decade. One of Masters’ patients is an African American woman whose life he saves on the operating table. He later insists that she remain in the White section of the hospital, to the dismay of the white nurses in the staff. Her participation in the episode doesn’t end there, either.
Baby Boomers will remember the sensation that the research of Masters and Johnson caused during their own adolescent and young adult years. It is easy to infer that the partners’ research came just at the right time for the sexual revolution of the ‘60s and ‘70s, perhaps helping to further its reach.
The pilot episode ends with a bang, as Masters makes a suggestion to Johnson as to how to improve their research. Her suggestion is controversial and to some it may seem destructive or self-serving.
Leave it to cable TV to turn an edgy yet possibly too academic subject into a suspenseful and entertaining show. We can only hope that the pilot is a representative of the whole series.
For those who missed it, this initial episode will repeat on Showtime tonight, October 1, at 8 and 10:05 p.m. EDT. But check your own area cable listings to confirm.
Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, will try to entertain you with his musings. He is in Facebook (Mario Salazar) and Twitter (@chibcharus).
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