This week, I get to write about the first male nude magazine and depending on what you’re into, you’re either intrigued or slightly uncomfortable. But just like HBO Max’s “Minx,” there’s more to this than meets the eye. HBO Max’s Nixon-era comedy tells the story of Joyce Prigger (Ophelia Lovibond, “Guardians of the Galaxy”) and her journey to publish the first feminist magazine. Unsurprisingly, Joyce’s pitch is turned down until she meets Doug Renetti (Jake Johnson, “New Girl”), a porn publishing giant who is actually willing to take Joyce up on her idea. Joyce is appalled — how is “The Matriarchy Awakens” going to fit into erotica? Doug presents the obvious solution: a porn magazine for women.
The first two released episodes of “Minx” detail Joyce’s struggle between her carefully curated and conservatively-clothed feminist image and Doug’s vision of (what she considers to be) absolutely unhinged nudity. Joyce has to cast her moral high ground aside and try to find something in common with Doug in order to really get her show on the road, including scrapping “The Matriarchy Awakens” for a more ‘palatable’ title: “Minx.” The show’s jokes land well for the time period it’s set in and earned an actual, audible laugh from me. Jake Johnson uses his established rapport with the audience from his “New Girl” days, and characters like Doug’s employees Bambi (Jessica Lowe, “Blended”), Tina (Idara Victor, “Rizzoli and Isles”) and Richie (Oscar Montoya, “Blank Pages”) all have a beautiful on-screen chemistry that brings the ’70s-style show to life.
While “Minx” can neatly fit into the comedy category, it crosses the line into “cringe” quite a few times. You can tell that some characters exist solely to be hated — like Mr. Ross (Stephen Tobolowsky, “Groundhog Day”), the wealthy, misogynistic, inappropriate country club owner and Glenn (Michael Angarano, “This Is Us”), Joyce’s unsupportive boyfriend. More glaring than this, however, is Joyce herself. The Vassar graduate with a privileged country club background seems to be unable to see beyond her own nose. She’s frustratingly stubborn and ultimately cringe-worthy when she begins working with Doug and his more sexually-liberated employees. When Joyce asks her equally sexually-liberated sister Shelly (Lennon Parham, “Playing House”), “What woman wants a sex toy?” I think I laughed more out of incredulity than anything. Joyce’s behaviors can likely be chalked up to inexperience, and we can see her starting to grow from the influences around her near the end of the second episode. So if you can grit your teeth through the insufferable “uptight feminist” trope, the show definitely has a shot at redemption.
Save for the “Euphoria”-level full frontal nudity, “Minx” thus far fails to explore the deeper plot points that a women’s erotic magazine creates. In an effort to preserve the comedic aspect of the story, the show makes a number of assumptions: that their audience of (apparently straight) women all have an interest in the same kind of pornography, and that racism, homophobia and blatant sexism don’t exist in Doug’s workplace (made clear by the diverse set of employees). Granted only two episodes have been released on HBO Max; one can hope at least some of this might be addressed in the future.
“Minx” is marketed as a comedy, and it does actually deliver on it. The sets, costumes and tone are all colorful and sweet, providing a comforting backdrop to an otherwise slightly more serious historical event. With two new episodes streaming weekly, hopes are high for one of HBO Max’s newest comedies.
Daily Arts Writer Swara Ramaswamy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.