How “Masters of Sex” should reinvent itself

The show's been renewed, and it has a lot of promise. Here's how it can get even better

Topics: TV, Masters of Sex, Showtime,

How "Masters of Sex" should reinvent itselfLizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen in "Masters of Sex" (Credit: Showtime/Michael Desmond)

Last week, “Masters of Sex” received a much-anticipated dose of backstory in the form of some new faces. Bill Masters’s mother arrived, bringing with her unwanted memories of the doctor’s abusive father. Ginny’s musician husband showed up at her door with the hope of rekindling, if not their romance, at least enough sexual chemistry to merit him a place to rest his head until the next gig.

Unfortunately, the Bobby Cannavale-like ex’s appearance only taught us what we’ve been told many, many times before in all the previous episodes: Virginia Johnson is a thoroughly modern woman — a fireball in the sack and whatever. Bill’s awful relationship with his father only serves to explain why he, himself, is hesitant to have children — a one-to-one correlation which is a) a little too one-to-one and b) hardly what we most want to know about Bill.

The lure of this show is the doctor’s bull-headed devotion to studying sex and his growing relationship with Ginny. Their connection is both dramatically and historically inevitable, which, sadly, insures that Bill’s relationship with Libby — their future as marrieds and parents — is doomed. I cannot possibly feel guilty for spoiling this upcoming episode after hearing Libby deliver this most blatant bit of foreshadowing when Bill harangues her for cruising the nursery: “Why wouldn’t I?” the pregnant woman asks blithely. “It’s cheaper than a matinee and you are guaranteed a happy ending.”

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I stopped recapping “Masters” a couple of weeks ago because I simply didn’t feel like I was connecting with the show the way other critics and, more importantly, audiences had been. (The show reportedly averages nearly five and a half million viewers per week.) Now, “Masters of Sex” has been renewed for another twelve episodes and, honestly, I am pleased. I said I stopped recapping it; I didn’t stop watching it.

While not nearly as soundly conceived or finely executed as, say, “Mad Men” or “Parenthood,” “Masters” has always shown glimmers of promise. Despite a few clunky moments like Libby’s assertion above, this weekend’s episode is no exception. Dr. Haas’s entanglement with the provost’s daughter grows knottier and more watchable — especially considering his single-minded feelings toward Ginny. The provost’s concealed sexuality provides an undercurrent of tension that, hopefully, will pay off in high drama. And as always, throughout the recent history of television, the appearance of Allison Janney (as the provost’s wife) is wildly encouraging.

With at least twelve more episodes to come, I look forward to discovering the origins of Dr. William Masters’ obsession. In the meantime, there are sure to be more amusing diversions such as studly Dr. Austin Langham’s sudden struggle with … studliness. This storyline plus the brief appearance of an ultra-religious, young couple naive to the intricacies of babymaking cause me to wonder whether MoS might work better as more of a procedural. Yunno, every week Bill and Ginny wrestle with a different instance of sexual dysfunction while trying to reign in their burgeoning attraction toward one another. It’d be like “Bones” but with boners.

Neil Drumming

Neil Drumming is a staff writer for Salon. Follow him on Twitter @Neil_Salon.

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