TV review: Breathless | Masters Of Sex | Sex Box

Breathless. Picture: ITV

Breathless. Picture: ITV

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LAST week I watched a drama about a doctor who performs heroic surgery, whose closest colleague is a bit of a ninny, whose hospital is a randy place save for one token horn-rimmed frump, who lives in a dream home with a blonde wife but probably doesn’t love her, who back at the randy hospital fancies the new recruit, a cool and alluring brunette unlikely to put up with the not-very-casual sexism of the day.

Breathless

STV, Thursday, 9pm

Masters Of Sex

Channel 4, Tuesday, 9pm

Sex Box

Channel 4, Monday, 10pm

That was Masters Of Sex and then I watched Breathless. Same deal. Doc, forceps, swooning staff, randiness, frumpiness, emotional aridity among the luxury furnishings, sexual frissons on the wards, leading to the thought: “When did women get so ballsy? Is there something in the air? Could it be some kind of crazy sexual revolution?” I can’t think of an example of scheduling as clodhopping as this. Or hype so lame. Both shows have been billed as the new Mad Men; neither, on the evidence of the first episodes, comes close. Most of us will only have room in our lives for one such series, so which will it be? Masters Of Sex is American, and Breathless is British. The former begins in 1956, the latter in 1961, so they’re almost equidistant from Mad Men’s starting point of 1959. Masters Of Sex is at least its own thing, being the story of sexologist William Masters’ pioneering survey which kind of started the crazy sexual revolution, which first the men of Mad Men and in later seasons the women would exploit. But Breathless is more of a direct steal, with gynaecologist Otto Powell a sexual conqueror like Don Draper and sporting the same haircut. It’s as if the format was run off Joan Holloway’s photocopier (you remember: the first-generation one installed in 1962, as big as a frigate, all hard, dull edges next to her curves). Oh, and Breathless has its own vampish redhead as well.

Otto is played by Jack Davenport. Early on he said “Thank you, theatre”, a line which could have come from Smash, his Broadway-set drama. Davenport is Smash’s leading alpha male, a competition with just the one entrant, but here he gets to tell the soon-to-be-married redhead “You’ll be wasted in the kitchen”, leave his wife picking fag butts out of the shagpile after a party and keep a gun. The danger element in his perfect existence looks set to come from the illegal abortions he does for posh women (“I’ve been such a silly muffin,” admits one) and from Iain Glen, who in the final scene was skulking in Otto’s garden behind a Terry-Thomas moustache. That’s the trouble with these shows billed as the next Mad Men, the British ones at any rate: they can’t be subtle, artful portraits of a time of great social change relying on terrific dialogue; they have to add a clunky mystery element. The Hour was exactly the same.

There were times in Masters Of Sex when I half-expected Terry-Thomas to pop his head round the door. Such a moment was when Masters himself (Michael Sheen), trying to persuade his boss of the merits of studying the female orgasm, produced a formidable glass vibrator containing a camera and invited him to watch. “I don’t like where this is going,” said the boss, although Masters chose to ignore the innuendo.

He’s a strange fellow, for sure. A man professionally obsessed with sex who doesn’t appear to like it personally, or at least not with his wife, insisting on a mechanical and unerotic procedure as the best way to conceive, despite her pleas for even just some eye contact. I like Sheen but he’s not playing a super-confident man such as Tony Blair or Brian Clough, one who rather likes the sound of his own voice, and he seems to be struggling in such an uptight role. Masters may loosen up, though, having appointed Virginia Johnson as his assistant. An ex-nightclub singer, played by Lizzy Caplan, she loves sex in a way that shocks him, then intrigues him. She instantly got the significance of the study – “This could bring about the biggest change in women’s lives since the right to vote” – and enthusiastically recruited people willing to be wired up and studied having sex. Masters left her thinking about his suggestion they should bonk – purely in the interests of research, of course.

I don’t have a one-track mind; I only review programmes that get shown. Sex Box does what it says on the box: couples have sex in a box and then discuss it with a panel of experts. There are no cameras inside the structure, which nevertheless fascinates. How long before a Homebase inquiry desk gets the first request for help in knocking up a sex box in a back garden?

BEST SPORT

International Football, Sky Sports 1, Tuesday, 7.30pm

World Cup qualifying finishes and once again Scotland won’t be involved at the business end. Finishing with a win, though, would complete a double over Croatia and give Gordon Strachan, right, hope for the future.

BEST COMEDY

Veep, Sky Atlantic,
Wednesday, 10.35pm

I hope The Tunnel works; not all transfers do. The US version of The Thick Of It did, though, and here’s the second season featuring great lines such as: “You can’t reason with him. It would be like explaining Supertramp to a Komodo dragon.”

BEST DRAMA

The Tunnel, Sky Atlantic, Wednesday, 9pm

While waiting for the second series of The Bridge, here’s an Anglo-French remake of the original. A woman’s body is found at the midway point in the Channel Tunnel. Stephen Dillane and Clémence Poésy investigate.

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