Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Masters of Sex. Why I Kept Coming Back this Season.

My first impression is that Masters of Sex is incredibly difficult work for the two main characters -- Michael Sheen who plays Bill Masters is allowed such little range in the emotionally self-alienation that the role demands (remember his exuberance in Frost Nixon?) and Lizzy Caplan feels confined to her role's purposefulness, earnestness -- and, on both counts, rightly so. Masters isn't a loveable character. And the role of Virginia Johnson reminds me -- pointedly -- that single working mothers have painfully little margin for error with the massive demands of their lives; somethings change so little. That said, when they're allowed range, both take it. They are the engine, yes, but I kept coming back for the ensemble cast whose plot lines grew as the season went on.

First, Beau Bridges and Allison Janney are exquisite. And note: when have we seen two veteran actors play -- in the same season -- such demanding and brilliant dramatic parts and comedic parts -- both are in Masters of Sex and currently running sit-coms (Bridges plays the father in The Millers; Janney the mom in Mom).

I'd like to talk, just a minute, about their bodies in these roles. Janney all limbs and stride in Mom becomes so narrow, awkward and precise as Margaret Scully in Masters of Sex. And Bridges is a short squat old man in The Millers. He seemingly shaves off ten years and grows about six inches when he plays Provost Scully. A sunken chest as Mr. Miller becomes an impossibly broad, square-shouldered chest as the provost. 

Janney and Bridges' scenes -- together and apart -- on Masters of Sex are some of the most beautiful,  raw, and honest I've seen. Incredible, breath-taking.

And when I talk to my writing students about knowing your era -- and using it to your advantage -- and knowing place -- and exploiting it -- and knowing, with depth, your full characters, I will be pointing to the scene with Janney, a college swimmer, in the university's indoor swimming pool with her ex-lover during a nationwide civil defense drill to prepare for nuclear attack. Alone and floating on their backs in the deep end, they talk about satellites not orbiting, but slowly, slowly falling.

Finn Whitrock who plays Dale, the Provost's lover, has a monologue in a hotel room with Bridges that is something I will never forget. Absolutely perfect. The supporting actors are across the board incredibly dynamic -- Helene York, Nicholas D'Agosto, Teddy Sears... They pin me in place.