Note: This post contains spoilers for Minx season 1 episode 1.
Print magazines might be a declining industry in 2022, but 50 years ago it was a booming business with newsstands bursting with eye-grabbing periodicals. New HBO Max comedy Minx from Ellen Rapoport captures this world through the eyes of earnest feminist Joyce (Ophelia Lovibond), who thinks she can enact real change if she can turn her dream publication, “The Matriarchy Awakens” into a reality.
In the first attention-grabbing and hilarious episode, Joyce discovers there is a market for her idea, but she will have to make some big changes to her vision to get this project off the ground.
Joyce’s fantasies focus on winning Pulitzers in front of icon Gloria Steinem — who herself would launch Ms. magazine in the same year Minx is set — but first she needs to get funding.
The 1971 Southern California Magazine Pitch Festival is not the rousing success she hoped it would be, although a chance meeting with brash Bottom Dollar Publications founder Doug Renetti (Jake Johnson) opens an unexpected door. Doug’s empire boasts a circulation of 4 million readers across 12 different titles, which could be an enticing prospect to Joyce if Doug wasn’t a purveyor of porn.
From their first interaction, it is clear there is a clash of personalities and the uptight Joyce is dismissive of everything Doug stands for. He gives her some advice for free but his relaxed confidence is instantly at odds with her rigidity. It isn’t openly flirty between the pair (though it wouldn’t surprise me if they tip into romance in the future), but the antagonistic back and forth is already selling this duo as business partners. Johnson and Lovibond’s chemistry is apparent from the first scene they share and the push-pull as Joyce realizes she has to adjust to this concept is particularly fun.
Joyce can’t convince any of the publishers at the pitch festival that her Women’s Liberation idea is a good one and it is by chance that Doug offers her a shot. “It blew them away,” Doug tells Joyce about the reaction from the centerfold models to the test copy he gave them to read during a delayed photoshoot.
Off the bat he tells her there is a branding issue. To get people interested in the hard-hitting topics she wants to cover there needs to be an incentive — like getting a dog to eat medicine by hiding it in peanut butter. In this case, male centerfolds baring everything is the lure.
“How is it fair and equal that a guy has 12 places to go to see a pair of titties but a gal has no place to go to see a dong?”, is his feminist-leaning pitch to Joyce. She is resistant at first and doesn’t think women want this, yet she cannot resist the opportunity.
For a show about adult magazines, it shouldn’t be a surprise that full-frontal scenes are featured in the pilot. This includes the models at the Bottom Dollar offices and the casting session for the first male centerfold, continuing the recent trend of showing the whole hog on TV.
Unlike Euphoria and Pam & Tommy, the nudity in Minx is not using prosthetics, with the casting montage featuring dozens of penises across a diverse spectrum. Director Rachel Lee Goldenberg avoids any hint of exploitation or trying to shock for the sake of it, instead managing to make this sequence funny for viewers and an eye-opening experience for Joyce.
The contrast between Joyce’s initial discomfort (she has only seen two and a half penises in her life) with the rest of the Bottom Dollar employees already at ease in this environment also adds to the fish-out-of-water scenario. The rest of the group are model and centerfold consultant Bambi (Jessica Lowe), makeup artist and photographer Richie (Oscar Montoya) and secretary Tina (Idara Victor). The latter has been working for Doug for a decade and this is more of a partnership than her title seems to suggest.
Earlier, Joyce voiced her concerns to her older sister Shelly (Lennon Parham) about this step forward as she is “not some sexy cool girl,” but the Bottom Dollar crew are welcoming and pushing her boundaries in a positive way.
A last-minute arrival to the casting session is enlightening not only because they have found their man, but because firefighter Shane (Taylor Zakhar Perez) taps into a primal desire angle that Doug has been preaching. Joyce is still unsure, however, as she cannot separate the dream she had with what she believes is a tawdry compromise.
It doesn’t help when Joyce’s ex-boyfriend Glenn (Michael Angarano) throws disdain and judgment in her face for being the “Porn Queen of Pasadena.” This mustache sporting and plaid suit-wearing journalist briefly gets in her mind, but a shift in the zeitgeist brings Joyce back into the Bottom Dollar fold.
Burt Reynolds famously posed for Cosmopolitan in 1972, which was a taboo-breaking moment — even though his manhood is not visible. Reworking the timing of that Cosmopolitan to fit the show, the gleeful reaction to this national magazine event convinces Joyce she underestimated Doug and his ability to know what readers want. But first, she needs to do some groveling.
Up until now, costume designer Beth Morgan has emphasized the contrasting duo with Doug’s penchant for chest revealing polyester patterned shirts and Joyce’s rotation of pussy-bow blouses. When Joyce visits him in his suburban home, she is more casual in appearance. It’s like she is opening up to him finally and grasping the concept that a “magazine has to make you feel something.”
Joyce has come to terms with Doug’s insight and that “The Matriarchy Awakens” must evolve into “Minx” if it wants to succeed.
The ending photoshoot incorporates the experience of catcalling that opened the episode, and Joyce has put her stamp on the male erotica selling point. Both Joyce and the pilot are setting the tone of what is already an enlightening comedy.