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click to enlarge Masters of Sex takes on the taboos of the 1950s.
  • Masters of Sex takes on the taboos of the 1950s.

Showtime's Dexter has finally wrapped, no one's exactly sure what harebrained plotline Homeland is going to follow next and Shameless continues to get more depressing, so it was important that the premium cable channel came up with a new show this fall to reel in TV nerds (and critics) once again. They looked to the wildly successful Mad Men on AMC for guidance.

But while Masters of Sex is a period piece brimming with all of the prim hairdos and modern furniture of the 1950s, it's not like Mad Men at all — there's nowhere near as much drinking and smoking, and it's set a decade earlier. Sex? There's plenty.

The show follows the real-life story of decorated OB/GYN William Masters and his assistant Virginia Johnson, who at Washington University in St. Louis took the scientific study of human sexuality to new heights. Masters of Sex has the subject matter every cable network craves, along with a title suitable for late night programming.

Michael Sheen (Midnight in Paris, 30 Rock) and Lizzy Caplan (Party Down) anchor the show with excellent portrayals. Without serious, talented actors, it easily could be misconstrued as smut dressed in scientific clothing.

Before Masters can get financing for his project, he sets up shop at a local brothel, watching sex from a peephole, taking notes. As the study progresses, masturbation is thoroughly examined by taking heart rates and body part measurements. On the sidelines, Masters' wife is having trouble conceiving and Johnson explores the balance between work, male companionship and motherhood.

We know Masters and Johnson are going to get together. But before the sexual explorers can fully connect, there must be a lot of built-up tension between them, and wives and ex-lovers hurt along the way. Masters of Sex has been hailed by many critics as the best new show on TV. It's not, but gets a lot of points for just showing up.

Masters of Sex • Sundays at 10 pm • Showtime

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