Masters of Sex

Sunday, Sept. 29, 10 p.m., Showtime

Liberally adapted from Thomas Maier’s thorough 2009 biography of the pioneering sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson, Showtime’s provocative new drama has no problems whatsoever grabbing attention and whatever else that wants to get grabbed. The setting is the prim American ’50s, where well-respected St. Louis gynecologist Masters (Michael Sheen) is secretly exploring the greater mysteries of human sexuality, mainly by convincing prostitutes to let him spy on them through peepholes while they do their work.

What Masters doesn’t know about women could (and eventually does) fill several books, but things get interesting when a new secretary at his hospital applies to be his research assistant. She is, of course, Virginia Johnson (played by Lizzy Caplan), a single mother with a forward-thinking sensibility about her own sex life. As a science project, “Masters of Sex” is an early success; Sheen seems to relish playing the uptight doctor who is beginning to understand the way his world restricts women (in and out of the bedroom) and Caplan is instantly perfect as the woman who will both teach and enchant him.

But none of that is happening too fast. “Masters of Sex” masters the restrained narrative equivalent of seduction and foreplay, building its story in a controlled and stylish (and, yes, frankly adult-oriented) manner. This TV season has failed to arouse me, but if there’s one show that might hit the right spot on the Sunday DVR queue, it’s this one. Grade: B+


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