Marvel's Agents of Shield, Masters of Sex
Marvels Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D - 102 - 0-8-4
I thought this did a pretty good job of nailing the tone Marvel are looking for. The team bonding was predictable but enjoyable. There are several running mysteries (who really healed Coulson? What did 'the Cavalry' do? And where will Skye's loyalties lie?) and the action sequences were suitably interesting. Throw in references to Captain America, Thor and an actual Samuel L Jackson cameo and you have a TV version of the movies. Mission accomplished.
What are the results for a viewer who lives on a diet of Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones? Basically I don't have much to say about a show like this. It's not attempting to put character first or create genuine tension. And I don't blame it for that. The question is whether it can make you care about these people and their relationships (like a Buffy or Angel) or if it's all too safe to really make you worry about any of them (like Chuck). The structure of the hierarchy makes me fear it will be the latter.
I hope I can watch some more but I may not be able to. This will certainly be the last written post until something changes.
Masters of Sex (First two episodes)
If you are looking for a recommendation then I can't give one. I need to see more. However my instinct is that Masters of Sex is not nearly as should as it good be.
SPOILER ALERT - below this point I am discussing events on the show.
Half way through the pilot I thought we were onto something good. Women faking orgasms or giving blowjobs are things which every teenager discusses in 2013. To see a world where a respected doctor is baffled by them or the scientific community blushes and frowns in equal measure at the whole topic was a great starting point. Michael Sheen is very good at playing a man repressing and exploring at the same time and Lizzy Caplan is plausible as his sexually aware assistant.
However the pilot blew through plot like there was no episode two. In zero time Virginia has got the job and they have begun their sex study. Then the project is in danger of being closed down and we have a late night phone call to fret over. Virginia manages to start and end a relationship in one episode and take a slap to the face. Soon they've not only secured support for the study but found willing volunteers to have sex. More than that one of them is married. We also learn that Masters wife is in a miserable way because of his lies and finally Masters suggests that he and Virginia have sex as part of the study.
That's a massive amount to go through in the first episode. I strongly feel that those developments should have been spaced out across about five episodes. I wasn't impressed when episode two saw the study moved to a brothel and Masters attempt to fire Virginia. The former feeling like plot mechanics and the latter being an obvious contrivance. The shift toward the odd relationship our protagonists have feels like a bad idea. I'm aware that that is where the story is going. But it's such an awkward subject to throw into the story so early that it ends up giving the show a soap opera edge which hinders its attempt at a serious tone.
The exploration of their respective characters is pretty thin too. I don't get a sense of what drives Bill Masters. His impassioned speech about forwarding science contrasts with the low sperm count he keeps hidden from his wife. But instead of that making him an intriguing figure, so far, it makes him seem like an ass hole. That may be the case but I think the show is trying to portray a more complicated man than that. I think they are going for a 1950s man who would struggle to reconcile his desires and needs given the world's rigid assumptions about the role a successful doctor should have in all aspects of life.
And yet we've had very few moments that ground the show in the 1950s. We've had no Don Draper calling his wife's psychiatrist to find out what she's been saying. The comparison with Mad Men is not good. Virginia's character seemed set to be defined by her unusually forward behaviour (in the bedroom and in the workplace). Yet the story moved so fast that we didn't have time to watch others be shocked by her. Instead she feels like a woman from our time and not one from the 1950s. Caplan is playing the role pretty much as she would if it were set in modern day and that may be largely due to the dialogue she's given. We've also spent a lot of time with a prostitute and a nurse, both of whom have little trouble being forward sexually which doesn't help Virginia stand out.
A couple more things: so far the show hasn't given a particularly good picture of men. That's fine if that's the shows aim but a more even handed approach might make it feel more authentic. And as I've already hinted the show just doesn't feel like the 1950s. Somehow Mad Men films its characters more intimately which helps with the sense that it's from another era. Whereas the angles and distance on Masters feels too familiar, too 2013.
I am aware that in my reviews (based on only two episodes) that I come off as incredibly negative. I don't mean to trash something that is only two hours old and could still develop into something good. But a couple of scenes in the pilot were genuinely funny and really interesting. Yet for me were quickly squandered. That disappoints me greatly and it's a rare show that loses me early and wins me back. As soon as the pilot finished my mind turned to Homeland, interestingly another SHOWTIME offering. By the end of that pilot you already had Carrie and Brody's stories very well established and she had cameras in his home. At the time it felt like a wildly fast, albeit compelling, introduction. About five episodes in I warned that the show had already hit too many speed bumps and although the season finale could have saved it, it didn't. My fear is that Masters of Sex has already blown the chance to slow things down and make me care about these two people. The tension between them carries an air of soap opera rather than character-focussed drama. As always I hope I am wrong and will be back if things change.