Please be advised that while watching Minx a lot of schlongs in your face will schwing. Okay, schwing might be a tad dramatic since most are more static than kinetic, but forewarned is forearmed (or forepenised, as the case may be), and I leave it up to you to decide if it’s a pro, a con, or, well, just a lot of dong. Whatever you decide, though, this delightfully smart, well-cast, and snappy series about the founding of a pornographic feminist magazine in the early 1970s is absolutely worth watching.
Joyce Prigger (Ophelia Lovibond) is a Vassar-educated, Pasadena-dwelling, unapologetic, elitist feminist with big dreams of skyrocketing to journalistic heights by publishing her magazine The Matriarchy Awakens. However, when she tries to sell the idea at the Southern California Magazine Pitchfest, all she gets are blank stares and befuddled responses from the panels of all male publishers. Imagine that! Well, all that is except for Doug Renetti (Jake Johnson), proud purveyor of such pornographic titles as Giant Juggs, Chesty Chicanas, and Milky Moms. Joyce is, of course, absolutely horrified by the very idea of Doug, his magazines, and everything she thinks he stands for.
But then, he shows up at her job at Teen Queen magazine having read every word of The Matriarchy Awakens, which shocks Joyce. “I’m not illiterate,” he responds dryly. What sold him even more on publishing it was when two of his centerfolds read it and liked it, and used its ideas to argue with him for better pay. Joyce is even more surprised that they read it, to which Doug responds that they aren’t illiterate either. You see, as well-meaning as she may be, Joyce is the kind of narrow-minded, upper-crust, white feminist who says of her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend’s mother, who is focused on planning a big party, “That’s what happens to smart women who don’t work. They still have these big brains, so they use them on things that don’t matter.” Oh Joycie, I’d want to strangle you with your precious little pussy bow if I didn’t know how much glorious growing and changing you were going to do this season. Though, at the same time, it’s not lost on me how easy it always is to snicker and roll my eyes at the uptight female character. That’s some pretty dark and patriarchal shit right there, huh?
Of course, Joyce does end up with Doug at Bottom Dollar Publications to publish a magazine with feminist articles about birth control and marital rape and a nude male centerfold, but it won’t be called The Matriarchy Awakens because, as Doug so delicately puts it, “that’s poon poison.” Gross. Together, while they butt heads about pretty much everything, they’ll run up against moralizing politicians, skeptical advertisers, establishment magazines, other feminists who will challenge Joyce to reconsider Doug’s motives, and still manage to put out a magazine. At the Bottom Dollar Joyce meets Doug’s right-hand woman Tina (Idara Victor), who, when Joyce asks her for a cup of tea, says, “Oh, I’m not the secretary. I’m just Black.” (She is the secretary, but also, like most secretaries, the brain that holds the place together.) Richie (Oscar Montoya), who has recently been promoted from makeup artist to photographer, but assures Joyce he’s photographed a lot of his lovers over the years, sees the potential for the magazine to reach the gay market. And Bambi (Jessica Lowe), a nude model turned Centerfold Coordinator for Joyce’s magazine, who is radicalized (in her own way) by her exposure to feminist ideas. Even Joyce’s married older sister, Shelly (Lennon Parham ), ends up embedded at the magazine, offering her insight into what she thinks white suburban mothers really want. Despite what Joyce thinks about Bottom Dollar Publishing, it’s a pretty inclusive place, and Doug, for all his male posturing, is one of the main people fostering that environment. The supporting cast is really quite delicious, and there are hints of the characters’ having their own deeper stories to tell if (and hopefully when) there are more seasons. I wanted to tell you who was my favorite, but then I couldn’t choose just one. They all light up their scenes in different ways, and their lines feel crisp and natural coming out of their mouths. Minx has a lot to say in many ways, but it is at its heart a character driven series.
The entire show is just very well-cast. If the role of Doug was not written with Jake Johnson in mind I’ll eat my hat, because he’s absolutely pitch perfect as a seedy, kind of fucked-up, but often good-hearted businessman who, even in awful seventies fashions, chewing on cigars, and calling women “chicks,” manages to be sexy as fuck. Ophelia Lovibond as a tightly wound, intelligent, morally superior, pedantic, idealistic Joyce is his perfect foil. Doug sees the nude centerfold as a way to hook heterosexual women and corner a new market, whereas Joyce maintains that “our penis is for political purposes, okay. It’s about shifting power dynamics and gender reparation.” Don’t get it twisted, though, even though she won’t admit it at first, the centerfolds also get her a little schvitzy under her high-necked collars. Also don’t get it twisted, because, while we may have fun laughing at what Joyce has to learn about desire and inclusivity and intersectionality and nuance, she’s right about a lot of things and has every reason to be so angry with the fucking patriarchy. And for all Doug’s initial welcoming inclusivity and willingness to foster Joyce’s dreams, he’s still very much a part of that patriarchal structure—unwilling to listen, controlling, and profit-driven, at one point saying that Joyce is the hood ornament, but he’s the whole car—which will cause a reckoning down the line.
I didn’t know that much about Minx before I started watching, but as the first episode drew to a close and I basked in the afterglow of finding a good show, I thought to myself, This feels like a show made by women. And clearly I’m telling you this because I was right, but you’re really going to need to watch the series to understand how that translates into the writing and the overall gestalt. It’s there in the ways that women talk about themselves, their bodies, their responses to the world. It’s there when Joyce talks about how she stopped playing tennis because of a predatory man at the club. Later in the series when a woman explains how she’s not a victim.
I found Minx to be a warm-hearted, frank, entertaining, bawdy, layered, and engaging show about an entirely unexpected topic that manages to feel extremely familiar. Whenever I watch a series that I enjoy as much as this one I worry that I’m not pointing out enough problem areas (the opposite is true when I truly despise something). And while I could tell you small things I might have changed—the order of Joyce’s backstory, parts of one of the later episodes—it’s mostly not worth either of our time. The biggest issue, which is far bigger than the series itself, is that of heterosexual women’s desire. Here it’s mostly expressed as muscular men and penises, penises, penises—of all shapes and sizes—but talk to any group of women and you’ll likely get a lot of different answers on what they feel about that. (Especially when it comes to flaccid penises laying languidly at rest.) At the beginning, when asked what’s sexiest about a man, Joyce blurts out intelligence, which rings entirely true for her character. It’s treated kind of like a joke, but of course it’s really not. I know it’s tied to the times, but I couldn’t tell if it was meant to be ironic that when Joyce finally explores self-pleasure it’s with a big vibrating phallus, mood music, and a Minx centerfold. Is that what would really do it for her? I see her more likely getting off while listening to a reading of some great feminist work and using a carefully drawn diagram of the clitoris. I’m not sure that the show always delves incredibly deeply into the political piece of women’s desire and equity and all that jazz, but I’m also not sure that they absolutely need to, you know? It’s a big messy subject and this is a television show, not a dissertation.
The series isn’t based on an actual magazine, but it is based on the fact that there were magazines featuring male nudity with feminist articles in the 1970s. It’s funny when watching these kinds of period shows to think about how far we’ve come and how far we haven’t. There wouldn’t be a giant hullabaloo about a magazine with a naked man in it today, and yet, everyone is talking about all the penises featured in this series and no one is talking about how often women’s breasts are out (which is often). There’s a point early on when Joyce says that the “ability to look makes a woman feel powerful,” and I think that’s relevant now (no matter how you identify) as we watch these schlongs move along our television or computer screens. There is power in being able to look and watch with the characters—whether it titillates you or not—as they hold their casting calls and shoot their centerfolds. It would be a very different series, and I would argue a less impactful one (double entendre not intended), without all the gleeful full frontal phallic nudity. So, I guess when all is said and done, I do need to weigh in and say that my vote is yes for the penises (in this particular case). But more importantly, yes, yes, yes for watching heck right out of Minx.