TV Picks: 'Masters of Sex,' 'Crimson Field,' 'The Strain'

TV Picks: 'Masters of Sex,' 'Crimson Field,' 'The Strain'
Michael Sheen as William Masters and Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson on Showtime's "Masters of Sex." (Michael Desmond / Showtime)

"Masters of Sex." Now entering Season 3 and the year 1966, William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) are poised to publish, and at least as we the modern audience know, become household names. "We are the sexual revolution," Virginia retorts, in answer to an early and seemingly critical question from the press, and she isn't kidding— Masters and Johnson provided the scientific credibility and underpinnings of modern attitudes toward sex and sexuality.

Early episodes of the new season, however, are more interested in the mundane than the meta. A disclaimer noting that the children of both Johnson and Masters are, at least as portrayed, entirely fictitious (each researcher did have two children) offers an instant indication that this season will involve more attention to personal lives, and more literary license, than previous seasons.

Caplan's Virginia continues to embody both the need for and arrival of the feminist movement, albeit with a self-confidence and reproductive freedom that seems impossible to completely reconcile with the time, never mind the actual Johnson. Her relationship with Bill (Sheen) and his wife, Libby (Caitlin FitzGerald), enters something of the absurd, at least in early episodes, with the two families (Virginia has been reunited with her children, now teenagers) sharing a lake house and way too many B-plots including one involving Vietnam and an unplanned pregnancy.

The performances, however, remain splendid and those moments in which we see the two working through their working relationship and, even more important, their early effect on the world, promise great things. Neither of the real researchers provided detailed accounts of their personal lives so embroidering here isn't just natural, it's necessary. But the importance of the two lies less in the personal and more in the political and this seems to be the season in which the show must choose which arena it prefers. Showtime, Sundays at 10 p.m.

“The Crimson Field.” While PBS has been trumpeting "Poldark," the series that follows it on Sunday nights is just as good if not better.

Three young volunteer nurses arrive in France during World War I, fleeing their old lives and determined to do their duty. Kitty (Oona Chaplin) chafes against the rules and protocols that Rosalie (Marianne Oldham) is happy to embrace while the naive Flora (Alice St. Clair) must come to grips with the realities of war and soldiering.

Overseeing them is an equally disparate trio: the thoroughly modern Sister Joan (Suranne Jones), the newly appointed Matron Grace Carter (Hermione Norris) and the experienced but disgruntled Sister Margaret Quayle.

A blood 'n' bandages answer to "Downton Abbey," "The Crimson Field" addresses the issues of a shifting society and the horrors of World War I  with the same sort of humanity that marks "Call the Midwife" and "Foyle's War." If you like any of those shows, you will certainly like this one. PBS, Sundays at 10 p.m.

"The Strain." The old-fashioned clunkiness of this vampire pandemic tale, though jarring at first, remains its greatest charm. Let other shows wallow in metaphor and sweaty illuminations of the human condition, "The Strain" is about good versus evil, dammit (and, perhaps, the ascendancy of Staten Island.)

The blood-sucking virus continues to, um, worm its way into the general population, while the absurdly tall and red-eyed Master conducts his, er, master plan, with the aid, of course, of an effete former Nazi (Richard Sammel) and an equally loathsome old capitalist (Jonathan Hyde), who now has a comely companion.

Battling them all is the scrappy band of "specialists," including epidemiologists Ephraim (Corey Stoll) and Nora (Mia Maestro), Ukrainian rat exterminator Fet (Kevin Durand), beautiful computer whiz Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas) and of course their fearless leader, Abraham (David Bradley, without whom this show would be impossible.)

And if a proliferating population of vampires isn't fearsome enough, early episodes introduce a group of custom-monsterized children! A ninja vamp plot, a secret book and a crystal Mayan skull that looks like it was lifted from the last "Indiana Jones" movie! Everyone clashes and conspires with such unapologetic flourishes of good and evil it borders on camp but miraculously never quite succumbs. If television has indeed replaced film, this is its answer to the beloved summer horror film. FX, Sundays at 10 p.m.