Ellen Gray on Sunday nights

Say goodbye to Walt: After five seasons, AMC mainstay "Breaking Bad" will end Sunday.
Say goodbye to Walt: After five seasons, AMC mainstay "Breaking Bad" will end Sunday.
Posted: September 27, 2013

* MASTERS OF SEX. 10 p.m. Sunday, Showtime.

* BREAKING BAD. 9 p.m. Sunday, AMC.

* HOMELAND. 9 p.m. Sunday, Showtime.

THE CIRCLE OF television is spinning madly this weekend as one of its best dramas, "Breaking Bad," ends a five-season run on AMC, and a promising newcomer, "Masters of Sex," emerges on Showtime.

The return of "Homeland" would have been excitement enough, even with Damian Lewis' Brody in the wind (and off our screens) for a bit. The mess he's left behind is everywhere you look in the Season 3 premiere, and it won't be only Carrie (Claire Danes) feeling the effects.

Whether you're first watching that or the no-doubt heart-pounding 75-minute finale of "Breaking Bad," try to find time for Showtime's "Masters of Sex," a biographical drama about sex researchers William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) that makes science sexy.

Set in the age when "I Love Lucy" had Lucy and Ricky in separate beds, it shows this unlikely pair - he was a respected OB-GYN in St. Louis, she a former nightclub singer - doing the work neither Alfred Kinsey nor Sigmund Freud did: wiring up naked people and recording responses.

It's not exaggerating to say Masters and Johnson changed the way we think about sex, especially the way women experience it, but "Masters of Sex" isn't just one of the most entertaining dramas ever about science - talk about your niche categories - it's one of the better shows about sex, which cable often uses just to keep us awake.

If a show in which a doctor is at one point shown spanking a test subject to help her achieve orgasm can be called respectful, then this one is.

Sheen and Caplan are beautifully mismatched as the central figures in a story adapted from Thomas Maier's 2009 biography. Some characters appear to be composites, including Beau Bridges' chancellor, and liberties have been taken with timelines - Masters' and his wife's fertility issues were resolved long before he met Johnson, for instance - yet in many ways, it's the truth that turns out to be more eye-popping than any fiction.

Don't go there

Even with the departure of "Breaking Bad," there remain enough Sunday night shows with which to be obsessed that it's almost a relief to find a couple that require no attention whatsoever. One would be "Betrayal" (10 p.m. Sunday, 6ABC), in which the network that this week renewed its summer series "Mistresses" doubles down on adultery in an attempt to create another "Scandal." Fat chance. Not even James Cromwell can breathe life into this. He's playing a ruthless business titan whose son-in-law (Stuart Townsend) strays with the wife (Hannah Ware) of an up-and-coming prosecutor (Chris Johnson) just as a murder in the family puts the lovers on opposite sides. Where they should probably remain, if dialogue like this is any indication: "When I see you, I get this feeling, this spark that -" "- you've never felt before?" "I want to. Do you?" "Yes." No, no, no. If you don't have Showtime, there's still that splendidly adult CBS drama "The Good Wife" (until football's over, it'll probably be on closer to 10 than 9 most weeks, anyway). No need to stick with a soap so generic it could be found in the bathrooms of no-tell motels. Also skippable, for now: "Hello Ladies" (10:30 p.m. Sunday, HBO), a new comedy from Stephen Merchant that I'd expected to be funnier, given that Merchant is. Here he plays a socially awkward British Web designer living in Los Angeles who's not good with women, but in ways so obvious (and obnoxious) that it's hard to commiserate with him, much less laugh. Of the four episodes I've seen, only the last seemed to show promise, with a glimpse of the human being beneath the stereotypical boor. But even following the season premiere of "Eastbound & Down," Merchant's likely to lose some of us at "Hello."

Even with the departure of "Breaking Bad," there remain enough Sunday night shows with which to be obsessed that it's almost a relief to find a couple that require no attention whatsoever. One would be "Betrayal" (10 p.m. Sunday, 6ABC), in which the network that this week renewed its summer series "Mistresses" doubles down on adultery in an attempt to create another "Scandal."

Fat chance. Not even James Cromwell can breathe life into this. He's playing a ruthless business titan whose son-in-law (Stuart Townsend) strays with the wife (Hannah Ware) of an up-and-coming prosecutor (Chris Johnson) just as a murder in the family puts the lovers on opposite sides. Where they should probably remain, if dialogue like this is any indication:

"When I see you, I get this feeling, this spark that -"

"- you've never felt before?"

"I want to. Do you?"

"Yes."

No, no, no. If you don't have Showtime, there's still that splendidly adult CBS drama "The Good Wife" (until football's over, it'll probably be on closer to 10 than 9 most weeks, anyway). No need to stick with a soap so generic it could be found in the bathrooms of no-tell motels. Also skippable, for now: "Hello Ladies" (10:30 p.m. Sunday, HBO), a new comedy from Stephen Merchant that I'd expected to be funnier, given that Merchant is. Here he plays a socially awkward British web designer living in Los Angeles who's not good with women, but in ways so obvious (and obnoxious) that it's hard to commiserate with him, much less laugh.

Of the four episodes I've seen, only the last seemed to show promise, with a glimpse of the human being beneath the stereotypical boor. But even following the season premiere of "Eastbound & Down," Merchant's likely to lose some of us at "Hello."

Email: graye@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5950

On Twitter: @elgray

Blog: ph.ly/EllenGray

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