HBO’s new comedy can’t quite escape cliché but has fun trying.
It may seem strange to label a show all about making pornography in the 70s “charming.” And yet, charming is precisely the correct term for Minx.
Set in 1972—the year is never explicitly stated, but one real-world event reveals the timing—Minx doesn’t exactly start with pornography on the brain. After years of trying to get other magazines to print her work, Joyce (Ophelia Lovibond) decides to change her approach. She’ll start her own periodical instead. It’s a realization of a years-long dream called The Matriarchy Awakens. A magazine to finally reflect the perspectives and concerns of women her age and political temperament. Unfortunately, the old boys club of magazine publishers can’t wrap their mind around what it is. Nevermind why they’d publish it.
On the other hand, Doug (Jake Johnson), the owner-operator of Bottom Dollar Publications, sees potential in the idea. The publisher of twelve porn mags with the classiest titles you can imagine, he’s not ideal. However, he’s not stupid either. When he witnesses in the field how much Joyce’s sample interests his models, he knows there’s something there. Of course, Doug’s not willing to just toss “Matriarchy” on the stands as it stands. Instead, like a leisure-suited Mary Poppins, he’s here to preach the gospel of a spoonful full of sugar. The sugar, in this case? Naked men.
Show creator Ellen Rapoport has set up a classic “snob meets slob, learns to lighten up” situation. However, Rapoport—having an interesting past six months between this and her script for Clifford—doesn’t just leave it at that. She sets a tone for the show that never feels fair and honest to all. It’s never scolding toward Joyce or plays Doug and his crew for shallow jokes.
Lovibond authors a Joyce that is passionate to the point of being tunnel-visioned, definitely a product of her privilege but capable of self-awareness. It’s not an easy tightrope to walk. The actor does it so well that it takes an episode or two to truly take note of the work.
Part of that is that her co-star, Johnson, is as charismatic as he’s ever been. Clever, crude, and subtly egalitarian, Johnson makes Doug a lovable figure without sanding down his rough edges. He’s abrupt, reckless, and more than a little cavalier about what his work does. Neither the actor nor the show ever pretends otherwise.
Minx also boasts a solid supporting cast that’s given plenty to work with by the show’s scripts. Tina (Idara Victor) especially stands out. Officially Doug’s secretary, she’s genuinely his partner in all, but title. Unfortunately, this is still the 1970s, and she is a black woman in America. She has at least two wordless scenes that demonstrate her deep caring for Doug and her desire for something more from the job. The moments are all the more impressive given the backdrop. Bottom Dollar is constant chaos, eternally playing host to naked bodies, whirling employees, all manner of micro-crises, and occasional police visits.
It may seem strange to label a show all about making pornography in the 70s “charming”… yet, charming is precisely the correct term for Minx.
Lennon Parham as Joyce’s older homemaker sister and Jessica Lowe as centerfold/anxious to do anything else go-getter Bambi also stand out. The dynamic between Parham and Lovibond feels honest; it’s easy to buy them as sisters. Parham also nicely illustrates the difference in the reality of America for most women compared to Lovibond’s life. Lowe’s Bambi is a familiar type, to be sure, but the character never turns over into a two-dimensional falsehood.
Minx is not a perfect endeavor, though. There is still plenty of cliché in the mix that its energy can’t entirely erase. In addition, it often feels like it is running in place with plenty of movement but little actual plot progression. At times, there is almost a sitcom-style rhythm to episodes. It frontloads a conflict that ultimately resolves easily with everyone learning a little by the final credits.
Still, Minx does that sort of thing well. Moreover, it does so while clearly caring. Like the magazine at its center, this series has no interest in preaching to its audience. However, it does sneak in some medicine amongst the rouged nipples and numerous free-swinging penises. Some of it is precisely what you’d expect (moralistic hypocritical politician), but most of it has more complexity. Try to find any show as even-handed about Catholics’ objection to the pill, for instance.
It’s tempting to go off on a tear about how Minx is a mirror to our current society. There’s a review that could focus on how it shows the importance of the press and the written word. One that muses on what it says about the ongoing battle for transparency when it comes to matters of sex, sexuality, and equal rights. Instead, the review’ll follow Doug’s advice. Minx is a well-written acted fun show that’s unafraid of being messy and naked in every sense of the word. Enjoy the sugar.
The first five episodes were provided for review.
Minx can’t be found on newsstands but new episodes air Thursdays on HBO and stream on HBO Max.