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Laughs, Sleaze, and California in the 1970s
HBO has a new comedy series, fresh out of the oven; it’s called ‘Minx’, created by Ellen Rapoport, and starring Ophelia Lovibond and Jake Johnson. The series premiered on March 17, with the first two episodes available on HBO Max. I signed up to review this series for a few reasons: I’m a sucker for depictions of Los Angeles circa 1970, and I’ve also been itching for a raunchy series that would lean into fanservice directed at heterosexual women and queer men. To get my most positive criticism out of the way, ‘Minx’ is a show that does not pull its punches — in either its unabashed love of ‘70s fashion and pop culture, or its dedication to fitting more penises on-screen than, say, ‘Euphoria.’
There is a much-talked-about montage in the first episode where Joyce (the protagonist) and her ragtag team of magazine veterans audition male models, and I must say, it’s probably the most memorable scene in the show thus far. It’s refreshing, and perhaps empowering for some, to see a show celebrate (with a good dose of playful humor) the male physique, as opposed to the usual breasts-and-butts treatment in adult programming.
‘Minx’ is not a particularly funny comedy (the humor is more exhale-through-the-nostrils than outright laughs), but it has a colorful aesthetic and a feather-light tone that actually give one the (admittedly somewhat cartoonish) impression of what it would be like to start a nudie magazine in L.A. in the early ‘70s. Joyce wants Minx (the nudie magazine) to succeed, and under the guidance of Doug (played by Jake Johnson), she learns the ins and outs of magazine publishing — an apparently cutthroat business in those days. On paper, this all sounds like a feel-good feminist outing that simultaneously preaches sex-positivity and knocks down patriarchal norms a peg, but there is a major caveat here that threatens to ruin the overall experience.
Joyce Is a Killjoy — for Both Characters and the Audience
To be clear, I don’t think Ophilia Lovibond gives a bad performance as Joyce, but rather it’s the character’s very conception that bothers me. Joyce is sort of the show’s anti-hero, in the sense that her redeeming qualities are few and far between; she is an extremely uptight radical feminist with delusions of grandeur about winning the Pulitzer Prize someday. Joyce is what we would call a Very Serious Person, and like with a lot of Very Serious People, she lacks self-awareness, as well as the capacity to have fun with seemingly anything. When Doug brings up Proust (as in French author Marcel Proust), Joyce corrects him by saying it’s pronounced “Proo-st” — perfectly indicative of snobbish behavior.
The show is well-aware that Joyce is kind of a fool, and righteously plays her like the fool for the first two episodes, in opposition to Doug, who despite being a sleazy nudie mag publisher, proves himself to be far more open-minded on cultural issues than Joyce. Taking all this into account, it’s easy to think that Joyce is meant to be a caricature of some of the worst problems plaguing white feminist discourse, but I’m not sure how much the show is in on its own joke.
Joyce is so incompetent, both as a magazine marketer and as a feminist spokeswoman, that her actions actually strain one’s suspension of disbelief. To start, Minx was not originally called Minx — it was called The Matriarchy Awakens, an overtly radical feminist publication with a God-awful title, and content that would revolve around women’s issues — presumably white affluent women’s issues, given Joyce’s worldview.
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Indeed, the worst thing that happens to Joyce in the first two episodes is that she gets cat-called by some construction workers; she also gets playfully ribbed by Tina (played by Idara Victor), Doug’s Black secretary, for her casual racism. Joyce is so white and so affluent that class struggle never seems to cross her mind, nor does she does seem even slightly concerned with the plights of queer women and women of color; her lack of intersectional thinking is disturbing. The biggest problem with ‘Minx’ is that its lead’s likability is planted in the gutter — somewhere between J. K. Rowling and Joseph Stalin.
‘Minx’ – A Solid Supporting Cast Tries to Lighten the Mood
As if to compensate for the wet blanket that is Joyce, the supporting players in ‘Minx’ are generally charismatic, open-minded, naturally humorous, and — friendly. Jake Johnson is a reliably comedic actor, and he does not disappoint in his role as Doug, an experienced publisher who takes Joyce under his wing. We also have Tina, who has been working as Doug’s secretary for the past decade, Bambi (played by Jessica Lowe), a model-turned-marketer who in some ways is Joyce’s foil, and Richie (played by Oscar Montoya), the token gay man who knows how to work a camera.
Is it unlikely that someone in Doug’s position (not to mention the time period) would be totally cool with hiring a Black woman and a gay man? Perhaps. The appeal of the team trying to get Minx off the ground, aside from their humorous interactions, is their egalitarian dynamic; strictly in terms of real-world application, Doug is a better feminist than Joyce. I am curious, however, to see developments with Bambi and Tina, who seem most likely to point Joyce in the right direction.
It would have been too easy to make ‘Minx’ an outright sex comedy, but a good bulk of the runtime (at least so far) consists of the practical needs of running a magazine, such as courting advertisers, getting along with co-workers, treating models fairly, and so on. Past the montage I mentioned earlier, there isn’t much in the way of nudity in the first two episodes; the male full frontals that would naturally come with the job are more like a bit of icing on the cake. Really, it’s easier to recommend ‘Minx’ as an ensemble than as one person’s journey; I say this partly because I deeply dislike Joyce, but also because I think the setting calls for a diverse cast of characters — which we have gotten, to an extent.
White Feminist Media: Satirical or Sincere?
‘Minx’ is clearly a feminist show, but its treatment of its leading lady raises some eyebrows as to the show’s exact stance. Is this a critique of white feminism? If so, what kind of feminism is it proposing as a substitute? I would have to guess something generally sex-positive, given everything I’ve mentioned, but I have this feeling in my gut that ‘Minx’ goes out of its way to appeal to the demographic it seems to be taking down: white, snobby, heterosexual, upper-class feminists who influence liberal circles while also making transphobic posts on Twitter. Sure, Joyce is played as the fool, but Tina and Richie are token members of the team who (at least from what I’ve been able to see) have not been able to express themselves as individuals with agency.
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Doug chews out Joyce for the latter’s incompetence, but it’s strange that the only explicitly feminist character in the series is a huge stick in the mud who has to be taught by non-feminists how to be a decent human being. The show critiques “bad” feminism, but the critique doesn’t seem much rooted in a specifically “good” feminist perspective; if it’s meant to be satirical, it’s not especially effective as satire. At least some of its intentions are unquestionably good, but ‘Minx’ feels almost like it’s taking two steps back for every step forward.
‘Minx’ is available to stream on HBO Max.
By Brian Collins
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