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Masters of Sex
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Masters of Sex examines the life and work of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, a pair of pioneering researchers who studied the physiological aspect of human sexual response in the 1950s and '60s. You'll see plenty of simulated and explicit sex acts and lots of nudity and hear characters frankly discuss dildos, orgasms, and blow jobs (along with some unbleeped swearing). The show also delves into titillating social issues -- including sexism, racism, and the nature of love -- making it about a lot more than sex.
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What's the story?
Based on the lives of pioneering sex researchers William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan), MASTERS OF SEX explores the famed duo's controversial sex studies. From observing hundreds of people in the throes of ecstasy in a science lab at Washington University in St. Louis to challenging well-established theories about sex, impotence, and other taboo subjects of the time, the duo faces endless professional and personal challenges as they break ground in the field of human sexuality.
Is it any good?
For viewers who have never heard of the titular William Masters and the groundbreaking work he did with his then-research assistant (and future wife) Virginia Johnson, Masters of Sex will be a bit of a revelation. The lab equipment alone -- including a Plexiglas dildo with a built-in camera dubbed "Ulysses" -- is downright eye-opening. Still, when you get past the sex and nudity, which can hardly be avoided, you soon realize there's also some thought-provoking substance.
British actor Sheen (perhaps best known for his repeat portrayals of former Prime Minister Tony Blair in the film trilogy The Deal, The Queen, and The Special Relationship) pulls off a credible American accent as well as another great character who, in this case, is both respectable and unlikable. Still, the real charmer here is Caplan, who blends unflappable street smarts with a beguiling charisma that makes Johnson the real standout of the duo.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the real-life Masters and Johnson and discuss their work in a historical context. What were the 1950s and '60s like for human sexuality, particularly in how publicly it was discussed in social settings and in the media? Has history proven Masters and Johnson's research to be more or less relevant than it was when they initially published their findings?
How does sexism play into the duo's on-screen drama and their working relationship? Do women working in science still face the same challenges they did more than 50 years ago?
How accurate is Masters of Sex's portrayal of the real-life research pioneers and their work? Is it important for TV shows, movies, and other media to stay true to the facts when bringing the lives of actual people to life on-screen? What are the downsides of taking creative liberties with the truth?
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