No one watches Masters of Sex for the sex. That’s what was so brilliantly subversive about its first season. Sure, you could tune in to find Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) ordering dewy-skinned beauties to strip down and hook up — all in the name of science. But for all its late-night-cable allure, the 1950s drama was best when it explored more chaste human connections, especially among the women of that era, who had to fight to be taken seriously with their clothes on.
Spoiler Alert: Everything that happens on Masters of Sex is on Wikipedia. (Well, mostly.) The real-life research and romance of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the pioneering sexologists at the heart of Showtime’s provocative 1950s-set drama, have been well chronicled, so the answer to last fall’s passionate will-they-or-won’t-they cliff-hanger is just a click away.
Everyone wants to get naked on Masters of Sex (returning July 13 for its second season). When Allison Janney signed on to play the lonely wife of a university provost (Beau Bridges) on the Showtime series — which chronicles the real-life studies of sex researchers William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) in the late 1950s — nudity wasn’t in the cards.
1. Virginia JohnsonMasters of Sex If this pioneering sex researcher feels real (and she is), it’s because Lizzy Caplan brings warmth and vibrancy to the ambitious single mother crashing the boys’ club.
2. Capt. Ray HoltBrooklyn Nine-Nine Andre Braugher’s deadpan expressions are the perfect by-product of his strict gay police chief’s often hysterical follies with Andy Samberg’s juvenile cop. Is he smiling or scowling? You’ll never know.
Allison Janney didn’t begin this year expecting to rule the world — or at least TV. But after she booked a high-profile gig as Anna Faris’ recovering-alcoholic parent Bonnie on Mom, a call came in from Showtime that her services were needed to play the lonely wife of a gay provost on Masters of Sex. Suddenly, the 54-year-old actress, who costarred as a merry divorcée (coincidentally a boozehound as well) in this year’s comedy confection The Way, Way Back, was about to embark on one of the best years of her career.
The main characters on Masters of Sex (Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime) are surprisingly buttoned-up. Six episodes in, though, that’s starting to change. Says costume designer Ane Crabtree, “Everybody is covered up in millions of layers, but what we’re trying to do is get their clothes off.”
You’ve played a lot of memorable roles, and they all have a certain edge. How would you describe your niche? The quippy, sardonic girl who has commitment issues. That was my bread and butter. I didn’t want to play the one who has all her s— together, even though there are lots more roles for girls who have their s— together. I like the angrier characters.
There are many reasons to watch Masters of Sex: the sharp portrait of America’s changing values during the 1950s, the intelligent performance by Lizzy Caplan, the fact that it’s adapted from a book by award-winning biographer Thomas Maier. Also: the nudity. There’s enough late-night-cable skin to embarrass those Game of Thrones wenches. But that’s part of the show’s subversive appeal.
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