It would be cliché to use adjectives like stunning, nuanced, sexy, with spot on period décor. This show is the best because it's about two of the most interesting things in the world: love and psychology. And it's executed well. From the opening credits, to the last climactic scene, which could lead an audience to catharsis, this show is completely symphonic.
How do you turn a drama into a symphony? By slowly unveiling notes that lead towards a crescendo, hitting those high notes, and allowing for the release that follows.
It starts with character.
Character is destiny. Every character must have a secret and the revelation of that secret will create enough friction to compose the tension needed to sustain and drive the plot.
Whether it's Bill and Virginia participating in the study; Scully's homosexuality; Libby's second pregnancy; Dr. Langham's Oedipus Complex; Dr. DePaul's cervical cancer; Bill's abusive father and his mother's denial; Margaret Scully's 50-year secret; Ethan's love for Virginia; Libby's upbringing as an orphan; or Bill's low sperm count.
Each one of these secrets holds drama.
We all have a few secrets. Some need secrets to survive; others hide from them. Some live in denial, burying secrets in masks and illusions and layers of tumbling lies. Most secrets come into the light -- some confess to a variety of sources, a psychiatrist, parent, teacher, councilor, best friend or lover. Others take their secrets to the grave and the dead don't talk.
Secrets make the world go around. The writers of Masters of Sex ring bells reminiscent of one of the best psychological love stories ever: "The Lady with the Dog," by Anton Chekhov.
Comparing Masters of Sex with "The Lady with a Dog" is a high compliment.
When reading the body language of Michael Sheen, he speaks Chekhov's words.
"(Guruv) had two lives: one, open, seen and known by all who cared to know, full of relative truth and of relative falsehood, exactly like the lives of his friends and acquaintances; and another life running its course in secret... And he judged of others by himself, not believing in what he saw, always believing that every man had his real, most interesting life under the cover of secrecy....All personal life rested on secrecy, and possibly it was partly on that account that civilized man was so nervously anxious that personal privacy should be respected."
Now you take these secrets and embed them in a period piece (the 50s) when you could create a setting with the ripest social science issues in centuries: women's rights, science vs. religion, the Cold War, censorship and human sexuality, homosexuality and civil rights.
Now take this setting and characters with secrets and execute with high notes.
This is what Masters of Sex does almost from its start to conclusion.
Here is a list of a few high notes and tell us in the comment section if we're missing any: Bill holding his miscarried daughter; Lillian's confession of her cancer to Virginia; Scully's struggle and empathy for his lover's shame; Bill and Virginia reaching simultaneous climax; Ethan's slow redemption for hitting Virginia; Virginia quitting the study and her speech to Bill; Bill crying the night Libby miscarried; Virginia's singing and the accompanying montage; Betty's unsuccessful surgery; Virginia walking over the fallen male during an autopsy; Bill standing up for Virginia in a smutty film studio; Bill watching Virginia on film after paying her off for the study; Bill's obvious disdain for wanting children; and of course the "complicated" relationship of Bill and Virginia.
These high notes, wrapped and unfolded in secrecy and psychology make this show the best on television, in addition to its nuance, meticulous setting, directing, acting and sexiness.
This show is not perfect. There are fails. Like Vivian conveniently showing up outside Ethan's house late at night after Libby's "set-up" dinner. Or, Libby's unwillingness to probe into the obvious aloofness of her husband -- ugh, she was too much at times. Or, the writer who introduced Walter the handyman, who at the end of the first season wound up being nothing other than an example of "tokenism" in race. The creative writer in me insists things must be perfect; but when it comes to television, the best doesn't have to be perfect.
And Masters of Sex is the best this year. The show's pretty dang near perfect.