TV preview: Homeland | Masters of Sex

Last year, it’s fair to say that Homeland lost its way. The first series was terrific, every week keeping viewers guessing whether bipolar CIA agent Carrie (Claire Danes) had succumbed to obsessive paranoia or whether Damian Lewis’ returning hero Marine Sgt Brody really was a terrorist convert planning a massacre.

Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen in Masters of Sex. Picture: Comp

Tomorrow, Channel 4, 9pm

Masters of Sex

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Tuesday, Channel 4, 9pm

He was, but then at the last moment he didn’t and the anti-climax hung heavy over the second series. The ambiguity was gone: it was less interesting when Brody himself didn’t know which way he’d turn, while the attraction between him and Carrie got bogged down in unlikely confessions of love. Plus, there was all that tedious stuff about his daughter Dana’s traffic accident angst.

Though still acclaimed – Danes just won an Emmy award – it began to look like the show was running out of steam: with the truth out after the CIA HQ was bombed and Brody framed for it, could it still work?

But this engrossing series three opener answers yes, so far, as the characters deal with the aftermath. At last Brody’s family have more to do than look puzzled, while Carrie is on the back foot again as suspicion lingers over her connection with the man now declared America’s biggest terrorist. Saul (Mandy Patinkin) is in charge of what’s left of the CIA, which means tough decisions, but Brody is on the run and much less of an overt presence this series. Perhaps they’re preparing to edge him out of the show, which will make it more of a conventional spy series, but for now, it works, bringing back some of the ambiguity. I’m back in.

Masters Of Sex, a new drama from Homeland’s channel Showcase, won’t be for everyone, with its frequent, explicit sex scenes. But for once they genuinely are necessary to the plot, based on real events. In 1957, respected fertility expert Dr William Masters and former nightclub singer and woman-ahead-of-her-time Virginia Johnston teamed up to carry out research into the physiology of sex, which caused a sensation by revealing how women in particular respond.

The sex scenes are not sleazy, but mostly clinical, as the drama earnestly requests that we take their work seriously. But, watching two naked and wired-up strangers politely say hello before getting to it on a laboratory table, you can’t help but smirk a little.

It will be an unfamiliar story to most and it’s carefully told, with good but not distracting period detail. The show is not as visually rich as Mad Men, but covers similar ground in its account of 1950s sexism, hypocrisy and constant smoking. Michael Sheen, as the driven, closed-off Masters, hints at a darker side which may emerge later; Lizzy Caplan is appealingly sharp and sexy as Johnston, who began as his secretary but threw herself into the project. Although the pair had a long and controversial career, this 12-part series will cover only the early years, with more seasons following if it’s a success. It’s certainly one of the most interesting and unusual dramas for some time.