Boys and girls, perhaps the really nifty, kind-of toxic, interesting TV you can see this weekend is only available to those of you living in Newfoundland and Labrador. More about it later.
But first, a fascinating combo of viewing on Sundays, about men, ego, male anger and the role women play in men’s fantasies. Educational is what it is, and very entertaining, too.
Masters of Sex (Sunday, TMN, 10 p.m.) is followed by another cable show, Hello Ladies (HBO Canada, 11 p.m.). One is a serious, nuanced drama about Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) and their way-complex lives and relationships as they do laboratory research into sexual behaviour and arousal. The other is about a blythly delusional Englishman (Stephen Merchant) desperately looking for a relationship in Los Angeles.
At this point, Masters of Sex has moved beyond the initial story-starting narrative of Masters’ battle to have the research approved and to include Johnson in his work. The tricky landscape of his marriage and hints about his formative years are now at the centre as Masters and Johnson recruit participants for their research. Simultaneously, Johnson’s ex-husband and Masters’ mother arrive on the scene.
This is all very nicely done. We see that Bill Masters cannot diminish his control-freak methods. And when his mother starts telling tales of him as a young boy, his rage and anger are barely suppressed. And then there are further revelations about the strength and guile of Virginia Johnson. Her ex is sleeping on her couch, and Masters’ wife is trying to play matchmaker for her with a doctor.
What emerges from the episode (written by Amy Lippman, directed by Jennifer Getzinger) is a dry take on male power. Masters is stuck in his time – he’s the boss, women pay attention to and obey him. Meanwhile, as a doctor and scientist, he is fundamentally in favour of changing the way America views sexual behaviour. He’s a bit sleazy, still not anticipating how his work will free women, in many ways, from the preoccupation of men like him. In a way, these current episodes illustrate how Mad Men, dealing with a period very close in time, can be so unsubtle.
And then there’s Hello Ladies. Merchant, co-conspirator with Ricky Gervais on so many projects, is on his own here as Stuart, a website designer in L.A. who is always, always looking to make it with a pretty woman. Relentless and determined but socially awkward, he’s actually terribly lonely. Not that he admits to that. His ceaseless, cringe-inducing attempts to woo women always seem to end with him driving home alone, or shopping at an empty supermarket and then eating at home alone.
There is much about Hello Ladies that is off-kilter, weirdly self-aware and knowing. Stuart is hopelessly witless about women. His male gaze on women is as crude and misunderstanding as that of Bill Masters, decades earlier. So many years after Masters and Johnson helped them flee many traps that awaited then, women are still stuck fending off guys like Stuart. Thing is, now Stuart is the poignant figure.
Also airing this weekend
The Slattery Street Crockers (Saturday, NTV, in Newfoundland and Labrador, 7:30 p.m.) is great for those who can see it. It’s a demented, black-comedy soap centred on the lowlife Crockers, a boozin’, thievin’, fightin’ family in St. John’s. Written and directed by author Kenneth J. Harvey (and partly financed by crowdfunding), it’s raw stuff, in theme and in execution. Things start with young Joey Crocker (Percy Hynes-White, who is very, very good) standing on the street, a cigarette behind his ear, trying to entice two local teenage girls to be in a video. As we learn, Joey plans to “build an empire of sleaze.” The other Crockers are just as bereft of nice, middle-class demeanour. There’s a senile granddad, a disappointed, bitter dad (a very stoic Kevin Lewis), but the youngsters shine, too – Emma Harvey stands out as the lost teen, Lucy Crocker. This isn’t slickly made TV, but it’s energizing to see it achieved.