Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan screaming at each other? About sex? In the ’50s? Color me DTF (in the figurative sense). If it were possible to immure Showtime’s new series, “Masters of Sex,” into a four-sentence back-and-forth with oneself, it would be that back-and-forth. But alas, after trudging through the entire 64-minute premiere, one comes to the disheartening realization that any notion of summarizing this first episode, which Showtime has conveniently made available on YouTube, is as nonexistent as mid-20th-century America’s understanding of women.
The biggest issue, as it often is with pilots, is that showrunner Michelle Ashford tries to stuff way too much plot development into an hour. “Masters of Sex” starts off with prominent St. Louis gynecologist William Masters, played by Sheen, sneakily carrying out under-the-table studies about sex at a seedy brothel.
At first, the show gives the distinct idea that Masters is the type of guy completely dedicated to his craft, dutifully burning the midnight oil “in the name of science,” but that changes when he lays eyes on Virginia Johnson (Caplan). It’s easy to see right from the get-go that Masters isn’t just interested in Johnson’s secretarial abilities, a reality that Ashford touchily references throughout the episode, yet never really succeeds in solidifying until the final few minutes. There are moments of true humor and sadness, but everything whirlwinds forward at such an irregular pace that we never get a chance to connect with any character. But then again, this is just the pilot, and as long as it’s about sex in the ’50s, I’m always DTF.