Combining dramatized history, a late-’50s American setting and the topic of sex is guaranteed to attract an audience to nearly any show. But Masters of Sex (10 p.m. Sundays, Showtime) delivers beyond these popular tropes to explore the real-life early scientific study of human sexuality. The show’s title borrows the name of Dr. Bill Masters (Michael Sheen), an OB-GYN eager to research the science behind sex, but Lizzy Caplan’s Virginia Johnson is the show’s true star.
Masters is the linchpin of the study — he recognized the lack of research and he’s taking the most risk by studying such a taboo topic. But he’s robotic and terribly clinical — he needs a warmer, more relatable presence to acquire test subjects and make them feel comfortable, to translate his technical language into something more comprehensible and, of course, offer a necessary female perspective. As Masters’ secretary-turned-research partner, Virginia does just that.
The series charts Masters and Johnson’s research from observing prostitutes in brothels to working in a hospital setting with volunteers, and eventually with one another. The topic is both intriguing and entertaining, complete with plenty of “Can you believe people used to think that?” moments — including one religious couple that took the Bible so literally, they thought simply lying together could result in pregnancy.
A strong, intelligent and independent female voice is often hard to find in period pieces. Caplan captures this, portraying a woman not flawless but fearless — and one who played a pivotal role in the sexual revolution.
WEDNESDAY NOV. 13
Modern Family (9 p.m., ABC) – The gang attends the annual school fair, where Gloria signs Jay up as a “fair cop,” Cam has a case of the varsity blues and Hayley gets an uncomfortable introduction to Andy the “manny” (Adam DeVine).
American Horror Story: Coven (10 p.m., FX) – With the loss of one sense, Cordelia gains a new power
Burning Love (Season Premiere, 10:30 p.m., E!) – Julie (June Diane Raphael) didn’t receive Mark’s (Ken Marino) hose in this Bachelor/ette spoof’s first season, so she’s back for her chance at love. This week we meet the eligible fellas.
THURSDAY NOV. 14
Parks and Recreation (8 p.m., NBC) – Finally, the random Parks hiatus is over. In back-to-back episodes, Leslie must leave Ben’s birthday to filibuster Councilman Jamm’s bid to prevent former Eagletonians from voting in Pawnee’s recall election — in very questionable attire. The P&R crew plans City Hall-oween the same night as the recall.
Project Runway All-Stars (9 p.m., Lifetime) – Unconventional challenge! The designers create back-to-school looks out of items found in an elementary. Michael Urie and Gabourey Sidibe guest-judge.
Glee (9 p.m., Fox) – “The glee kids learn how to twerk.”
Parenthood (10 p.m., NBC) – Bob Little attacks Kristina during his campaign and she must decide whether to go negative in return. Julia and Ed take their “will they or won’t they” dance to the edge.
FRIDAY NOV. 15
Shark Tank (9 p.m., ABC) – Last season, Cincy business owners Trew Quackenbush and Corey Ward of Tom + Chee made a deal with Barbara Corcoran and Mark Cuban for $600,000 for a 30 percent stake in the grilled cheese restaurant. But did the deal come into fruition? Catch up with the guys in this week’s Shark Tank update.
SATURDAY NOV. 16
Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth (8 p.m., HBO) – Get a front-row look at Tyson’s recent Spike Lee-directed one-man Broadway show without the terror of actually being that close to him.
Saturday Night Live (11:30, NBC) – Lady Gaga brings her alien-goddess cray cray to Rockefeller Center as host and musical guest.
SUNDAY NOV. 17
Almost Human (Series Premiere, 8 p.m., Fox) – In 2048 Los Angeles, law enforcement officers partner with androids to protect and serve the dangerous streets. Karl Urban and Michael Ealy star as cop and ‘droid in this new crime drama.
The Walking Dead (9 p.m., AMC) – The Governor returns! We all knew he was lurking around somewhere nearby, right?
Boardwalk Empire (9 p.m., HBO) – Chalky takes Daughter to Delaware, where they hide out with a man from his past; Gillian considers selling the Artemis and starting over with Roy — who is clearly up to no good.
Eastbound and Down (Series Finale, 10 p.m., HBO) -– In our last jaunt with Kenny, Powers Hour debuts and Stevie reads over KP’s epic manuscript.
CONTACT JAC KERN: firstname.lastname@example.org or @jackern