Levitt Reviews Masters Of Sex-Season Finale (spoilers)

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Masters Of Sex did tick-up in quality slightly this year from the Dan Logan-Centric previous season but unfortunately the year also doubled-down on soapy intrigue and melodramatic shenanigans.  The season finale had a rushed-up feel.  Subtlety gave way to easy closures and bizarrely unexpected detours.

Libby Masters JD-

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 When did Libby’s deep love of the law begin,  two episodes ago?. Libby was formerly the queen of domestic complacency; spending the past 3 seasons doing absolutely  nothing except smoking, and inwardly brooding about her condition.  This season, the staid former housewife however, suddenly decided to head on down to Woodstock and… eschewing the counter culture phrase, “Turn on, tune in, drop out”, instead decided to…become a lawyer. If you troubled to ask,  I’m sure people’s first impulse after dazedly emerging from the mushroom /mud infused grounds of Woodstock was probably not to decide to buckle down to 3 years of intense study and preparation for the Bar Exam.  Talk about your bad trip!

Johnny Masters- from neglected child to teenage martyr

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In this hyper-melodramatic finale, Johnny Masters (estranged son of Bill) overhears his parents bickering and -apparently because he has an extremely low tolerance for parental discord- completely freaks; jumping into his dad’s Jaguar and driving off in some wacky vehicular tantrum.  I’m not sure why Master’s son (absent all season) was suddenly called in for this melodrama.  Maybe due to some child labor laws in AFTRA, kids must appear in at least one episode per season to be granted health coverage. Johnny’s sole scene depicted him overhearing that his mom (kids in tow) would move halfway across the country to attend law school. Its hard to believe that Johnny’s character, so long estranged and even insulted by his father, would get so worked up about the fight that Johnny would both freak and -in some bizarre  magnanimous impulse-volunteer to live with his dad to ease his fatherly loneliness.  Luckily, the still “paternally ambivalent” Bill Masters quickly put the kibosh to any “The Courtship Of Eddies Father” scenario by announcing that despite Johnny’s kind offer,  Dad would now be keeping house with former mistress, fellow sexpert, Virginia Johnson.  Music to any estranged kids ears!

Dr Nancy-  Going Off “Half cocked”

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After a whole season of sniping at Virginia and de-masculating husband Art, what was Dr Nancy’s exit strategy this season?  Just steal Master’s and Johnson’s Clients, move to another city and set up shop using their approaches? Great plan!  Good luck getting a good job recommendation/employer referral after that one! .   This year, Dr Nancy and Art already won my  award for least fun, open-marriage swingers ever. Nancy was cold blooded, stone-faced, and ambitious and Art was  devoted, ethical, and soul searching. Instead,  Masters could have tapped into the more casual, promiscuous vibe of this era and even added some “far outs” or “groovys” to add some tacky flavor and more of a smarmy groove.  Unfortunately, the show apparently wanted to end the season by making Dr Nancy, Betty Gilpin, the single least likable woman on cable; aborting her husband’s baby without his knowledge/consent and stealing her bosses clients. On the plus side though, she did like her some “open marriage sex”.

Masters And Johnson- How About A Wedding Quickie?

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What do you get for the couple whose relationship was sizzling, bubbling, percolating for 4 seasons (spanning 10+ years)?   a quickie marriage in the clerk’s office of City Hall and presided over by a grumbly functionary. Yeah, that hit the spot!  Seems satisfying.  I guess the writers wanted to avoid any  needless romantic proclamations by Masters or any earnest love-filled vows by Virginia to keep female fans of the show happy. No, we don’t want that! Look, They got hitched.  Isn’t that enough?  The show didn’t even go to the trouble of throwing up any last minute roadblocks.  No last minute Dan Logan or “Dotie” objections to clog up the works and kill any remote dramatic tension. No last minute Barton Scully indignant meltdowns at the courthouse (always good for a laugh)  Bill was late to the ceremony. that’s it.  It would probably be a more dramatic payoff if Masters suddenly realized he forgotten his beloved bow tie.

Betty- What, Did Her Invite To the Finale/Wedding Get Lost In The Mail?

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Killing her lesbian lover in childbirth, losing custody of her new baby to her lover’s hateful, intolerant parents…They did everything to Betty this season but chuck her head-first down a flight of stairs.  What happened here? who’d she piss off?  Did she accidentally  drop a #2 in the Toilet of Lizzy Caplan’s private dressing room?   The show didn’t even have the courtesy to invite her to the courthouse nuptials of Masters and Johnson.  Screw Scully or Guy, Betty deserved to be there.

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Mark Levitt On “Casting The President”

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a lot of people might say they enjoy The Americans or Madame Secretary.The guilty pleasure of a lot of TV Viewers is reality programming. The current election is the most watched, hotly debated contest I can remember and the increased interest is largely because of the spicy reality style put-downs, bravado, and posturing.I think in large part people vote the same way casting agents pick actors/contestants to fill their roles

Sure people say they want someone to act presidential.  The assumption here is that voters want their president to be dignified and diplomatic. so casting the president, you would want to cast someone noble.  like a less stamery version of Colin Firth’s character in A King’s Speech. But What we know of politics though, high sounding on paper is largely full of back-room deals and soul crushing compromise. In addition People don’t admire presidents anymore, frankly they gravitate more to people who wield power work between the gray areas of the law like a Tony Soprano or a Walter White. People and the media say they want a high minded figure to stand for them but, in truth, who have they chosen to support them in the Democratic and Republican Parties?:  An ethically challenged businessman known for cutting deals and an opportunistic chameleon who seems to have spent the majority of her life in the pursuit of power.

Hilary Clinton reminds me of Alan Cummings character in Circle Of Friends- A creepy, fawning, opportunistic character who bides his time around for the chance to marry into the family business. To me Hilary Clinton has spent much of her political life waiting. Putting up with a husband who cheated on her multiple times, then serving a political rival she bitterly opposed all the while subverting her impulses till the time was ripe to seize political  power.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that 🙂

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Donald Trump is more like an Archie Bunker character with money. A man whose opinions seem largely formed by stereotypes,  raw social antipathies, and gut impulses.  whose base political stances often don’t really stand up to intellectual scrutiny…Quick to anger and to label, nevertheless he has an audacious personality that is as repellent as it is compelling and, like Archie Bunker, is also frequently funny.

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After the recent Republican debates,  the media largely condemned the coarse juvenile rhetoric. But I don’t find debate jargon elegant anyway.  It is largely full of trite, common speech and  its closer to the language of commercial jingles than lofty speech. For example when Marco Rubio recently rebutted Trump’s claims that the world was too politically correct, he  said, “I’m correct, I’m not politically correct.”.  This reminded me of the old Starkist slogan, “Sorry Charlie, we don’t want tuna with good taste, you want tuna that tastes good!  So,   its not Henry James or Henry Wadsworth Longfellow up there trading colorful turns of phrase exactly.  In ages past politicians might have spoken in a more lofty way because there was more of a separation between the classes brought out by the way they spoke. Now, politicians are more largely concerned with words that will stick in your head and hit a nerve than in being particularly eloquent. Similarly, Trump’s reliance on name-calling is a quick attention getting device.In  As anyone whose ever watched a reality show, talk show, or had a fight with their own family can tell you , when you call someone a name you immediately command attention:  ” liar”, “choke artist”, “con man”.  . It makes people stop and take notice. The name calling is  just an effective entry point. no one will listen to you a long paragraph where you intimate, subtly suggest or symbols which show how badly you view the other candidate. Its not like the viewing audience at these debates is honed and ready to respond to subtlety ( Ah,so, the Empire in Star Wars is a symbol for Nazi Germany, good one, George Lucas!, nice subtle put down of the Nazi Regime).

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Masters Of Sex- “You’ve Been Dan Logan’ed”

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Open A window- I’ve been a fan of masters of sex from the first season. The acting and dialogue is first rate and it has the simmering love story for the two central characters that is seemingly necessary for these kinds of dramas (ie “The Affair”).

However, now in its third season the show has taken a dip for the worse and the reason is the godawful stench of Perfume/scents mogul, Dan Logan played by The Good Wife’s Josh Charles.

Something smells fishy- On The Good Wife, Josh Charles played a pragmatic, cerebral quick on his toes, lawyer, “Will Gardener”. His innate unruffled, taciturn demeanor played well to the thoughtful and strategizing lawyer he played on the show. However, on “Masters” his strengths as an actor seem wasted on a character that is meant to be more of a suave worldly charmer.  It seems hard to imagine that this undemonstrative guy could inspire Virginia Johnson to play hooky and go to vegas or that he could unlock the secret scent of sex any more than he could unlock the drawer to his own medicine cabinet. Also, what the hell is a perfume mogul anyway?! Does this career even exist and, if so, why cast it with an actor with such a pronounced nose (Josh Charles)? isn’t this casting choice a bit too “on the nose”? and, even if we accept the conceit of the show, that perfume moguls do exist and yes they often have big shnozzes, why would these people conduct their own research? Even back in 1967, wouldn’t these people be able to hire their own assistants to do all the boring lab work?

I guess its too easy to say the addition of Josh Charles alone has “stunk up” the set of Masters Of Sex.  The writers deprived Charles of much of a backstory and are making him far too much of a smitten, reactive agent on the show to be a truly compelling character.  Also, part of what makes Masters Of Sex work is the fiery dynamic of Sheen and Caplan. They’re both volatile with quick shifts into anger or hurt.  Charles “go to” reaction as an actor is to be on his guard and slow to show how he really feels.

So one wonders why Charles, aside from the weekly grind of being on a network show like The Good Wife, opted to transition into a less interesting character on a more niche show like Masters?  Maybe the newly married Charles just wanted to do a few sex scenes with Lizzy Caplan to relieve some of his marital monotony.