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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Showtime Gets Behind Closed Doors with "Masters of Sex"

The premiere episode of "Masters of Sex," directed by the Oscar-nominated John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love"), opens with a tone-setting but subtle image—a finger running around the rim of a water glass. It's an image that engages the senses: We can relate to the touch and the sound it creates. "Masters of Sex" is about a man and a woman who tried to explore the scientific understanding of relatable but often-secretive senses—those stimulated during sex.


The names Masters & Johnson are now known around the world but these two were once challenged in their efforts to explore something everyone did but no one talked about. As Masters says in the premiere, "There are libraries on how babies are born and not a single study on how babies are made." "Masters of Sex" is not just about how babies are made physically but the many other entanglements that get tied up in the act of baby-making including marital complications, societal expectations, and, perhaps the most scientifically unquantifiable element in the world, human emotion. With incredibly strong central performances and one of the most thematically dense subject matters to explore of the new season, "Masters of Sex" serves as a nice partner to Showtime's returning "Homeland," providing two hours of intelligent adult drama on Sunday nights.

As the show starts to settle in (around episode four), it loses a bit of that thematic underlining and only gets richer in terms of character and thematic exploration. Just as "Mad Men" turned from the world of advertising to the personal lives of its characters over the course of that first season, the thematically similar "Masters of Sex" works better as it becomes about the people as much as the subject matter. As Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson so importantly proved—it's not about the act of sex itself but the people involved in it.

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