'Masters of Sex' is explicit, but also funny and sometimes sad

Akron Beacon JournalJune 23, 2014 

  • NEW RELEASES

    These DVDs were released this week:

    Films: Enemy (starring Jake Gyllenhaal); 300: Rise of an Empire; Winter's Tale; Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (documentary portrait of the Broadway legend); Blood Ties (crime drama by French actor/director Guillaume Canet starring Clive Owen, Marion Cotillard, Mila Kunis and Zoe Saldana); Repentance (with Forest Whitaker and Mike Epps); Some Velvet Morning (Stanley Tucci in Neil LaBute film); The Attorney (South Korea); B.B. King: The Life of Riley (documentary); American Experience: Freedom Summer (civil rights documentary); Basketball Girlfriend; The Chef, the Actor and the Scoundrel (China); Fracknation (documentary); A Hard Day's Night (1964, the Beatles' landmark film debut, with hours of special features, Criterion Collection); Two Lives (Germany/Norway); The Black Book (1949); Escape From a Nazi Death Camp (docudrama); Deadly Revenge; The Jungle (Australia); Classic Drama Collection (five British costume-drama classics from 1987-97, including Jane Eyre, Emma and The Lady's Not for Burning); Wolf Creek 2.

    TV series: Duck Dynasty: Season 5; Unforgettable: Second Season; Dora the Explorer: Dora's Magical Sleepover; The Boondocks: Fourth Season and an 11-disc complete series (2005-14); Mama's Family: Fourth Season (1987-88); Comedy Bang! Bang!: Second Season; Jack Taylor, Set 2 (crime series set in Ireland); Arne Dahl (Sweden).

    THE WASHINGTON POST

If you don't have Showtime, you might not yet have caught up with the series Masters of Sex. Do so this week, when it arrives on disc.

Do so, that is, if you are an adult. The drama is often explicit in its consideration of what Americans did in the bedroom (and other rooms) in the years before and during the crucial research into sexuality by William Masters and Virginia Johnson.

Masters of Sex: Season One ($55.99 DVD, $65.99 Blu-ray) follows the process by which Masters (Michael Sheen) began his research and how it changed, especially once Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) became part of it. The first season covers their meeting and earliest collaborations; a second season begins July 13 on Showtime.

It also lets us into the lives of people with good and bad sex lives, and the emotional consequences of both; look especially for a fine performance by Allison Janney. It begins to trace the relationship between the married Masters and the divorced Johnson, which led to their marriage (and, much later, divorce).

Based on the book of the same name by Thomas Maier, and developed for TV by Michelle Ashford, the series is sometimes funny, often despairing about its repressive times, but also uplifting as it shows what happened when women especially began to understand more about the way their bodies work — and the simple act of talking about sex made help possible for frustrated or uninformed couples. When, for example, one couple is having trouble conceiving because they believe that "sleeping together" means just literally sleeping together, it shows how a lack of information can have huge consequences.

Sheen is excellent as Masters, a chilly soul who at first views sex as little more than an accumulation of data. Caplan is even better, presenting Johnson as a vigorous woman in a time and place where such vigor is something to be whispered about; for women, she becomes sex's Prometheus, bringing the fire to everyone who would end up reading Masters and Johnson's findings.

The DVD release includes cast commentary on the first episode, deleted scenes and three featurettes: one on the making of the series, and one each with Sheen and Caplan discussing their roles. The Blu-ray adds a conversation with Maier and a piece about some of Masters and Johnson's discoveries about sex.

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