Masters of Sex, More4 - TV review


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The Independent Culture

How important is a likable lead? Masters of Sex, which kicked off a second series on More4 last night, is a study in just that. It's not that 1950s sexologist Bill Masters (Michael Sheen) is an antihero. We've learnt to love philanderers like Don Draper, drug dealers like Walter White and even the serial killer Dexter Morgan. Masters' problem is that he's so utterly bereft of any appealing qualities at all. Priggish, sexist while pretending to champion women and lacking even the surface charm to temporarily compensate, Bill Masters is never pleasant company.

His doorstep declaration of love for Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) at the end of last series seemed to hint at future character development – Sheen is certainly capable of bringing more nuance – but by the end of this series opening we were back to square one: wondering what, exactly, a woman like Virginia could possibly see in a man like Bill.

Just as uncomfortable to watch, but much more emotionally involving, is the marriage of Barton and Margaret Scully (Beau Bridges and Allison Janney). He's gay and she's a woman, which means these two kind people are seemingly doomed to make each other forever miserable. Bill's kindness to Barton as he underwent electroshock therapy was the one flattering light that shone on our increasingly dim view of him.

More's the pity then that, along with blonde secretary Jane Martin, the Scullys are to be phased out this season, to allow the actors who play them to pursue other roles. Masters of Sex is the show you want to love and yet with every passing episode, there's one less reason to try.