In the 1970s, feminism and pornography had two things in common: each achieved a new level of cultural saturation, and both had profound implications for America’s bedrooms. But they were also fundamentally in conflict over the objectification of women’s bodies and the representation of female sexuality. This ongoing, if ever-changing, dispute has filled op-ed columns for half a century. When TV dips a toe in, it’s usually in the context of a prestige project like David Simon’s HBO period drama The Deuce, about the ’70s Times Square demimonde.
With that in mind, HBO Max’s feminist-porn comedy Minx, premiering March 17, feels kind of bold. Set in the same era as The Deuce, but across the country in L.A., it begins with the collision of two worlds at a magazine-publishing conference. Joyce (Ophelia Lovibond) is an earnest, naive feminist who’s there to pitch her Ms.-but-angrier passion project The Matriarchy Awakens. Doug (Jake Johnson) is the scruffy, pragmatic publisher of such titles as Secretary Secrets. He shows up with his shirt unbuttoned almost to the navel; she’s in a pantsuit, the collar of her blouse just about grazing her chin. The contrast couldn’t be clearer.
Of course, Joyce blows it at the conference, scaring off a newsstand’s worth of male media moguls. But Doug, an eerily shrewd judge of character, sees something in her that they missed. Soon (too soon, but it’s hard to blame creators for rushing to set the scene now that viewers inundated by content are liable to give up after a slow pilot) she quits her day job at Teen Queen magazine, breaks it off with a boyfriend who wants her to give up on her dream, and sets up shop at the headquarters of Doug’s seedy empire in the Valley. She gets to make her women’s-lib mag—but it has to have naked guys in it, and it needs a better name. The Matriarchy is dead; long live Minx.
What follows is a breezy workplace comedy, with will-they-or-won’t-they elements, whose male-nudity quotient rivals that of Euphoria. Creator Ellen Rapoport, working with a team of executive producers that includes Paul Feig, can be overly glib in acknowledging the uglier aspects of the porn industry. (A throwaway joke about underage models lands with a thud.) The larger historical context rarely comes through. It’s hard to tell whether the show means to depict Joyce’s personal involvement in the thriving movement to which she’s devoted her life as, at best, tenuous. And most characters are written as types more than people: the prissy upper-crust feminist; the crude working-class schlock merchant; the hyper-competent girl Friday (Idara Victor); the ditzy centerfolds, male and female.
Yet for all those flaws, I mostly enjoyed the show. True to its title, Minx at its best is a sexy trifle, and the palpable chemistry between its leads counteracts the uptown girl/downtown boy cliché. Johnson, beloved for playing New Girl‘s secretly kind curmudgeon Nick Miller, was pretty much made for his role. As a showcase for him and for Lovibond, Minx couldn’t be more seductive.
This appears in the March 14, 2022 issue of TIME.
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