"Mad Men" is gone, but the comparisons with "Masters of Sex" -- the Showtime series based on my biography of Masters and Johnson -- will linger.
"Mad Men" is one television's all-time greats and for "Masters" to be in the same conversation with it is amazing. Showrunner Matthew Weiner's extraordinary talent for plot twists and deep characterizations remains the gold standard for all who follow "Mad Men". There are some obvious physical similarities between the two shows, particularly the 1960s costumes and time period for both dramas.
But there are also some stark differences.
"Mad Men" always seemed obsessed with death -- selling cigarettes as death sticks to an unsuspecting American public and Don's overwhelming self-destructiveness -- while "Masters of Sex" is essentially about the mysteries of human intimacy and our search for love. Big, big difference there, my friends. I've always felt "Masters" does a far better job at portraying the subtle emotions between men and women than "Mad Men."
Ironically, the comparisons to "Mad Men" began before "Masters of Sex" was even on the air.
In the premiere episode of Season 5 in March 2012, "Mad Men" made a fleeting reference to Masters and Johnson. It's the same episode in which Don Draper's new wife Meghan heats up a party in their apartment by singing Gillian Hills' "Zou Bisou Bisou."
As Mark Maurer in New Jersey's Star-Ledger noted at that time: "Pete jokingly refers to Don and Megan as “Masters and Johnson,” pioneers of research on human sexuality and coincidentally the subject of a new Showtime pilot starring Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan."
This little tip-of-the-hat was thrilling to me, because I've always admired the television genius of Weiner, and because "Masters of Sex" would soon to make its debut on Showtime in fall 2013 (and was filming its pilot at that time). Since then, the comparisons between the two shows only increased.
The Huffington Post declared:
It's got all of the scandal, fashion, drama and depth of character that you love from "Mad Men." Just replace advertising with sex research and you have the perfect formula for your next favorite show.Time Magazine was even blunter:
Now that male-centric dramas like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Dexter are coming to a close, and Masters has emerged as the most promising new show that aired this year, we’re hoping that television writers will start taking on the task of female drama.Some provided comparisons of Mad Men's Don Draper and Masters of Sex's Dr. William Masters:
Anyone who possesses even passing knowledge of Showtime's Masters of Sex and AMC's Mad Men will know that the two shows are similar-ish on the surface.But when you dig into the two male protagonists – Masters of Sex' Dr. Bill Masters (played by Michael Sheen) and Mad Men's Don Draper (Jon Hamm) – you'll see that they share many traits and circumstances that are not obvious to recognize at first.And in London, the Guardian compared how the two shows handled their females characters:
Compare Masters' wife Libby with her Mad Men equivalent Betty Draper. Both are ice-cream blondes, impeccably turned out and concerned with presenting a perfect face to the world. Yet while Matthew Weiner frequently writes Betty as more caricature than character, a spoilt child with an immature view of the world, Michelle Ashford gives Libby both heart and soul. We feel for her when she loses her baby and we understand why she subsequently lies to her husband. Libby's actions ring true to us because she is written like an actual person and not a personification of "everything that was wrong with women in the 1960s"."Mad Men" was a terrific series that expanded the creative boundaries of television and once again put the emphasis on the writer as the real star of the show. "Masters of Sex" hopefully has several more seasons to go with showrunner Michelle Ashford before it reaches a finale.
But I think there's one more more comparsion that can be made. Because "Masters of Sex" is based on a real-life story, I know that the narrative will become only more complex and richer for the audience. That story-telling quality will be particularly evident in this upcoming Season 3, as the working relationship between Masters and Johnson becomes more equal and their personal relationship becomes infinitely more complicated.
So say a fond bye-bye to Mad Men, but stay tuned for much more of Masters of Sex.
|Teddy Sears, a star of Masters of Sex, in early episode of Mad Men|