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The Minx Premiere Offers Up Lots Nudity but Tries to Provide a Female Gaze

S1E1, “Not like a shvantz right in the face” and S1E2, “Au revoir, le double dong”

Photo: HBO Max

The following contains spoilers for the Minx premiere S1E1, “Not like a shvantz right in the face” (written by Ellen Rappoport and directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg) and S1E2 “Au revoir, le double dong”


The Minx premiere is not subtle—we were promised fun and breezy comedy set in the 1970s with sharp takes on feminism and lots of equal opportunity nudity courtesy of HBO Max, and that’s exactly what the show delivered. Show creator Ellen Rappoport, who also created Desperados for Netflix, apparently had been shopping Minx for a while—by hauling lots of 1970s porn magazines into pitch meetings no less—and the show benefits from having a clear behind the scenes vision to ground the pretty outlandish premise. Though it has a tough road ahead as it tries to balance its more lofty ambitions with its desire to copiously display as much skin as possible.

The most difficult thing the Minx premiere has to do is keep the central character, Joyce (Olivia Lovibond), from falling into extreme caricature. Joyce is an uptight and driven creative force, and is dedicated to getting her feminist magazine, The Matriarchy Awakens, published. Her singular focus on the magazine leads first to the end of her relationship, then seems to start causing her issues at work. All of this could have been presented in a way that made Joyce seem unsympathetic and hard, especially when compared to the more fun-loving and libidinous characters she encounters in the journey. But, for the most part, Minx doesn’t go that route. Joyce is driven and a little off-putting, but everyone loves her and supports her work, they just also want her to loosen up a little and admit that she sometimes likes more prurient things.

Joyce and Lesie at a party in the Minx premiere
Photo: HBO Max

Joyce has been working on The Matriarchy Awakens for years, and one of the fun repeated bits on Minx is her dream of accepting a Pulitzer for her work on that magazine. Joyce sees herself and her magazine as a potential rallying point for an exchange of the ideas of the women’s liberation movement and takes it all very seriously, but the show uses her stance and her rigidity to lightly satirize the tenants of second wave feminism. The magazine has the look and feel of a self-published “zine” and if she had decided to go that direction it seems like a rewarding project, but far from being the lucrative endeavor that she would want it to be. Thankfully though, she insists on publication, and so she winds up in business with Doug (Jake Johnson), a prolific publisher of pornography, and Minx—both the magazine and the show—is born.

Joyce seems incapable of understanding the ways in which her magazine is off-putting, particularly to the patristic and misogynistic men who published magazines in the 1970s, and fails repeatedly and spectacularly to get anyone to even listen to her, except Doug. Doug is certainly not a feminist, by the standard of the 1970s or the 2020s, but he is interested in making money and thinks that Joyce’s ideas have merit. He is a pretty complicated character to pull off as he has to be pretty sketchy and gross to realistically portray a porn magazine magnate, but he also needs to genuinely care and not just be gross or it would be impossible to root for Joyce joining up with him. Thankfully, Jake Johnson’s performance perfectly plays both parts of Doug. And Johnson and Lovibond have great acting chemistry, pushing each other and grounding each other at the same time.

The 1970s production design and aesthetic are essential to what makes Minx work. Like two other shows that have been recently airing episodes, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Winning Time, the production design and attention to detail are spectacular throughout and key to the story actually working. Another key to how Minx works is that there aren’t a lot of plot machinations in the Minx premiere. Doug hears Joyce’s pitch, offers to publish the magazine if they make it feature nude men, and Joyce almost immediately agrees to the plan. She does have the almost requisite moment where she backs out and it is only the incredibly popular (and real) Burt Reynolds nude centerfold in Cosmo that convinces her that Doug was right and she should return. But even this development is resolved quickly—Rappoport and the creators seem to be more interested in the characters and the world than plot dynamics, and I think that helps keep the show feeling brisk. Before the end of the pilot, Joyce is on board with the idea of expanding the sexual gaze to feature the penises as prominently as other magazines might feature the vulva. The very last scene of the episode is of Joyce sitting at her table designing the magazine’s new title card, creating Minx.

Joyce's hands from above adding design elements to the new Minx magazine
Image: HBO Max

Minx S1E2 (“Au revoir, le double dong”) picks right up from there. The focus moves away from Joyce’s issues with the nudity and exploitation that are the core factors of Doug’s empire and more toward really fleshing out the characters. The core dynamic remains between Doug and Joyce, but the other members of the Minx team are all given moments and seem to have great potential as characters.

Jessica Lowe’s not-so-dumb blonde Bambi is a highlight. She takes instantly to Joyce’s ideas and starts to integrate them into her work—her work being nude photoshoots of “naughty schoolgirls”—and it is all played for laughs but the laughs are not at Bambi’s expense, making it feel like a richer area for comedy than it probably should. Similarly, Richie (Oscar Montoya), the gay art director who is the only photographer who will work with the nude men, gets little moments of interesting development to offset his stereotypical origins. The third member of the team, Tina (Idara Victor), is Doug’s secretary, possible partner, and possible romantic interest. All of them are played for laughs, but also given their own motivations, which I think will help the show grow beyond the salacious premise.

Minx S1E2’s plot also does a really good job of turning some of the more universal concerns about the misogyny of the era into more specific, personal, issues. The advertisers Doug has gotten for Minx are decidedly low-brow or sexual, which Joyce finds off-putting, so she decides to try to find different advertisers at her country club. The really creepy director of the club, played to cringe-worthy perfection by Stephen Tobolowsky, is the only one to agree to a meeting about advertising, so Joyce brings the whole gang to the club to meet him.

Richie, Leslie, Bambi, and Tina enter the party at the country club
Photo: HBO Max

The ensuing exchanges are a mix of standard fish-out-water fare for Bambi, Richie, and Tina in the very rich, very white, country club, but every exchange seems to tie back to the series’ themes of repression and misogyny. Tobolowsky’s character ultimately takes Doug aside and tells him he will advertise, but only if he can sleep with Bambi. This was another turning point moment in the series, a darker show would have had Doug insist on this, but this is not that show. Doug tells Joyce. Joyce punches the jerk and everyone leaves having learned their lesson.

Since they don’t wind up with the big client, Doug tasks Joyce and her sister Shelly (Lennon Parham) with coming up with a decent advertisement that actually appeals to women for a client they actually have, a sex toy shop. Shelly offers some real revelations to Joyce and S1E2 ends with her deciding to utilize the magazine and its advertisers in a much different way than she had ever considered before. And Minx seems intent on offering much much more of the same as the season progresses.

Written by Clay Dockery

Clay Dockery is an actor, author, and impresario extraordinaire. They are the co-editor of Why I Geek: An Anthology of Fandom Origin Stories and was the co-head organizer and creative director of MISTI-Con, Coal Hill Con, and The West Wing Weekend fandom conventions. They live in New York City with their girlfriend and their two chonky cats.

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