The revolution is televised on “Masters of Sex,” Showtime’s inexhaustibly pleasurable drama and the fall’s best new series.
Adapted by Michelle Ashford from Thomas Maier’s 2009 book, the frank, addictive “Masters” stars Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan as Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, those cultural grenade-tossers of the 1950s.
We meet Masters in 1953, as the highly regarded fertility specialist is conducting secret research into (as he politely describes it) the mysteries at the beginnings of life.
Why, he wonders, do prostitutes so often fake their orgasms?
When he meets the whip-smart young secretary who can answer his question -- “So she can get back to what she’d rather be doing” -- he knows he’s found his professional soul mate.
With the burnished, moody mid-century feel of “Mad Men” but occasionally straining for a lighter touch, the series chronicles the professional and personal adventures of the odd-couple crusaders.
That means “Masters” looks on as the duo wire up countless naked subjects and chart one rise, plateau and denouement after another.
Sheen, showing the same touch of desperation he brought to his David Frost in “Frost/Nixon,” plays Johnson as a troubled, arrogant physician well aware of just how little he knows.
The charming Caplan’s Johnson, meanwhile, knows nothing if not herself and her desires, and is ready to share the knowledge.
“Masters,” with directors including John Madden and Michael Apted, costars Caitlin Fitzgerald as Masters’s wife, Beau Bridges as his mentor and scene-stealer Allison Janney as the mentor’s wife.
Nick D’Agosto, though fine as Masters’s young protege, is given the difficult task of handling some “Nurse Jackie”-like humor. This after an early, unsettling display of aggression.
But even when struggling to maintain a consistent tone, “Masters” is bold and original. No faking.
“Masters of Sex” airs Sunday, Sept. 29 on Showtime at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: ****1/2
Pondering a return to TV news after his Parkinson’s diagnosis, Mike Henry, the new character played with a nod to reality by actor Michael J. Fox, frets, “What if I’m not the guy they remember?”
No worries for Fox, of course, since few actors come with his natural appeal and likability, even when a project like his new NBC sitcom doesn’t quite do him justice.
“The Michael J. Fox Show” returns the actor to his comedy roots, though the single-camera, New York-based program resembles “30 Rock” more than Fox predecessors “Family Ties” or “Spin City.”
Fox plays a well-liked New York news anchor returning to work after a five-year break, with the full support of his wife (Betsy Brandt) and three growing kids.
The actor’s real-life Parkinson’s tremors are worked into the comedy with considerable grace and self-deprecating wit.
In a quick flashback, we see the on-set incident that prompted Henry to quit: his anchor’s chair, rocked by his shakes, slides out of camera range.
That’s as risky as the show gets, though. By the second episode (three were available for review), the comedy is bright but familiar, with sitcom-wise teens, a glib sister who seems to have wandered in from writer/producer Sam Laybourne’s “Cougar Town” and everyone conveying fuzzy messages directly to the camera, a la “Modern Family.”
Fox can do better, and “Fox” might come through for him yet.
“The Michael J. Fox Show” airs Thursday on NBC at 9:30 p.m. New York time. (The September 26 hour-long premiere airs at 9 p.m.). Rating: ***
The voices in Robin Williams’s head get free rein in “The Crazy Ones,” a new CBS sitcom custom-built for the ex-Mork.
And, it turns out, made to order for McDonald’s: The first episode plays like a half-hour product-placement spot.
Williams plays Simon Roberts, the man-child founder of a once-edgy ad agency.
In the debut episode, McDonald’s executives have grown weary of Simon’s shtick -- indeed -- and are threatening to take their Big Macs elsewhere.
So Simon, level-headed daughter Sydney (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and their staff of young hotshots (James Wolk, Hamish Linklater, Amanda Setton) hatch a scheme to entice Kelly Clarkson to cut an updated, soulful rendition of “You Deserve a Break Today.”
Without sarcasm, the ad folk pitch Clarkson about the deep meaning of the old jingle -- It’s about love! It’s about family! -- and Williams shifts from manic to cloying faster than he can say two all-beef patties.
“The Crazy Ones” airs Thursday, Sept. 26 on CBS at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: **
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Good ** So-So * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Manuela Hoelterhoff on music and Ryan Sutton on dining.