I love the fall for many reasons—the return of football and hockey, the abundance of pumpkin-flavored treats, and new seasons of my favorite TV shows. Fall is when a sense of routine returns to my life, and the creature of habit in me loves that.
But there’s something to be said for summer and its lazy hours in air-conditioned houses, filled with time to explore the media we simply don’t have time to consume during the rest of the year. Summer is the perfect time to fall in love with a new book (or series of books) or binge-watch that TV show you keep saying you’ll “get around to eventually.”
In this strange space between summer and fall, I find myself hopelessly in love with both a television series and a book series, and I have to talk about them or else I might explode from too many unexpressed fangirl feelings.
I had a list of television shows I wanted to start this summer, but only one ended up making the cut: Masters of Sex. Thanks to Heather’s effusive praise of this show and its incredible leading lady (the fabulous Lizzy Caplan) over the past year, I bought the first season on DVD last week to tide me over until the rest of my dramas return at the end of this month. I’m not so sure I’ll be able to make it last until the end of the month, as I’ve made it to the halfway point of the first season after only two nights spent watching it. I can’t stop, and I don’t want to.
Each episode of Masters of Sex feels like a movie; it’s cinematic in its style, its tone, and its performances. Michael Sheen deserves more critical acclaim than he’s received for his incredibly nuanced work bringing flashes of humanity to a character who could have come across as one-dimensionally cold and distant. The moments when he shows you the cracks of vulnerability behind Bill Masters’s proud façade astound me. I just recently watched the episode entitled “Catherine,” and his breakdown at the end of it was brilliant—but what moved me the most was the moment just prior to it, as he tried to tell Virginia why a recent loss was his fault while clearly fighting back his tears. Sheen is a genius at restraint in this role.
And while Sheen is so good at being restrained, Caplan is a force of nature as his partner. I’m going to try not to write an essay in this post about why I love Virginia Johnson as a character, but forgive me if it delves into that territory. It’s just that she’s so warm and bright; she makes you understand why Bill Masters needed Virginia Johnson before the pilot is even over. And, even more compellingly, she makes you wish you had a friend like Johnson or could be more like Johnson yourself. There’s much more to be said about the fearless way she shows the vulnerabilities of being a working single mother that still plague many women today, but I promised I wouldn’t write an essay in this post (maybe in another one someday). All I’ll say is that Caplan makes the struggles of this woman resonate in way that doesn’t make you think about how far we’ve come; she and the writers instead force you to examine how little has actually changed in the battle women wage to have both career success and a family.
Masters of Sex has me hooked, and I haven’t even really seen any of Allison Janney’s Emmy-winning work on it yet. I can only image the emotional devastation I’ve felt over the last two episodes I’ve watched is only going to get worse. And I can’t wait.
While Masters of Sex is my late-summer TV addiction, I’ve also been swept up in a book series that has been perfect poolside reading: the Selection series by Kiera Cass. When I picked up the first book in this series, I had no intention of going beyond just that first book. I thought it would be a fun bit of escapist YA literature to end the summer with, but all of a sudden I’m halfway through the second of the three books in the series and losing sleep because I’m thinking too much about these characters.
In case anyone is interested, The Selection tells the story of America Singer, a girl who’s chosen to participate in a Bachelor-style competition to become the bride of Prince Maxon, who is part of the family who rules over what was once the United States (wars and economic collapse destroyed the country). There are rebel attacks, gorgeous gowns, and, of course, a bit of a love triangle. Think of it as The Hunger Games with more kissing and a lot less killing (at least so far).
I love the way this series honors the relationships women have with each other. The Selection itself could have pitted all of these girls against each other, but Cass makes sure to point out that the stereotypes of women being catty and jealous of other women are very rarely true. Instead, America actually finds a best friend among the other Selected girls. And America’s relationship with her younger sister and her maids are also treated with importance. Romance plays a big role in this series, but it’s America’s bonds with the women around her that I’m drawn to the most.
However, to say the romance in this series isn’t a major factor in my enjoyment of it would be a lie. But what I like most about the romance is that I do genuinely understand why both men in the triangle hold sway over America’s emotions—one represents the idea that your first love can last forever and the other represents the ability to love again in a way you never dreamed you would. As of right now in my reading, both men respect America’s agency and autonomy in a way I find very refreshing. She’s not a prize to be won for either of them, and that’s especially true for Maxon, whose desire to make her feel comfortable and not pressured in every aspect of her journey through the Selection has been the most pleasant surprise of the series so far.
If you need me before all of my shows come back this month, you can probably find me watching Masters of Sex or reading one of the Selection novels. Both are serving as a wonderful warm-up to the emotions and analysis coming my way over the next few weeks.
Did you fall in love with any new books, movies, or TV shows this summer? I want to hear all about them!