Thursday, October 3, 2013


Something magical happens when two people have chemistry. There’s an instant connection, an electric charge in the air. When you see it, you know it, but you can’t describe it. It’s just some ephemeral quality between two people. It’s a wonderful sight but there was absolutely none of it in Betrayal.

The show is about Sara Hanley, the wife of a prosecuting attorney, who begins an affair with Jack McAllister, the in-house counsel for a sinister Chicago crime family. And while both Hannah Ware and Stuart Townsend (playing the star-crossed couple) are decent enough actors, they have so little chemistry that even their sex is remarkably un-sexy. And it’s a shame because this pilot was sturdy enough in its construction. The plot moved a lovely pace, never rushing through anything, letting you really feel the weight of the characters’ decisions. Cromwell is always fantastic and I love watching him ham it up as the patriarch of this crime family. The directing was confident and well-thought out. The tone was soft and hypnotic, gently lulling you into the first steps of forbidden love. And Hannah Ware has a face that was made for the camera.

Eventually, as the story progresses, we meet T.J. Karsten, the possibly mentally disabled son of the crime boss, who winds up the prime suspect in the murder of his own uncle (though we don’t know why he is the prime suspect, yet). The pilot sets up a season-long murder mystery, and all the pieces are in place for it to be an interesting one, with a good deal of soapy twists on the way to its conclusion. The only problem is that the whole show revolves around Townsend and Ware, who have all the blistering sexual tension of two neighboring glaciers. And once you pull out that center peg, the whole show falls apart.

It doesn’t help that this show runs in the same block as Revenge, ABC’s current flagship prime-time soap, because the show really suffers from the comparison. While Revenge constantly jacks up its campiness, driving the show into new uncharted strangeness, Betrayal comes across as sedate and piddling. Who’s to say where this show will go, but without anything resembling a spark between its romantic leads, I can’t see any reason to watch it play out.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Masters of Sex

It’s good to see Showtime finally take advantage of its status as the home of extraneous boobs. My problem with almost every Showtime pilot over the last three years has simply been the need to throw in sex where none was needed, just to remind you which network you were watching. But Masters of Sex is not decorated with sex. It is sex.

The show revolves around the revolutionary studies on human sexuality run by William Masters and Virginia Johnson that began in 1956. William Masters is played by Michael Sheen, who brings a sort of steely performance reserved only for actors who you know could be chewing up the scenery if they wanted to. Masters has problems conceiving with his wife, a bloated ego, and a very serious obsession with the science of sex. So, he teams up with Virginia Johnson, played by Lizzy Caplan. Caplan does most of the heavy lifting in this pilot, her plot being the most dynamic. In this episode, Johnson struggles in her sexual relationship with a coworker, Ethan (Nicholas D’Agosto). Johnson has a very modern approach to casual sex, while Ethan, not surprisingly, doesn’t. This conflict, paired with the conflict between the very emotionally restrained Masters and his wife gives us an hour of drama about sex. Instead of just putting boobs on the wrapping paper, the present itself is a dick in a box.

But it’s not the sex, but what the show is saying about sex that makes the show interesing. The characters are in pain and their relationships are sinking, due, in large part, to sex. While the characters are espousing that sex shouldn’t be steeped in shame, and people should be open about these types of things, you can see that they, themselves are not immune to that same shame and self-doubt. And serving as the popped cherry on this delightful sundae is a scene in the end where two anonymous subjects have sex, connected to EKGs, in a sterile doctor’s office, while Masters and Johnson watch. The show puts us in the room, watching these two total strangers develop attraction and then screw. It’s refreshingly charming and simple. In fact it’s the most beautiful sex scene – of many – in the whole episode. And it takes place in a lab.

At the end of the day, there’s a lot of sex on television, and yet, there’s very little honest discourse about sex. In many ways, this show is a trail blazer, just like Masters, looking at sex for what it is, instead of how it can amuse/shock/disgust the audience. I, for one, am glad we are over our Puritan phobias. Maybe we’ll eventually see a dick on television. And I mean a literal dick, not Don Draper. 
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