HBO’s ‘Minx’ Has So Many Penises It Would Make ‘Euphoria’ Blush

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Minx is epitomized by the closing shot of its fourth episode, in which a hunky male model struts in slow motion, brimming with empowered confidence thanks to his recent feminist awakening, his giant dick swinging in the air. There’s plenty more where that came from in Ellen Rapoport’s HBO Max comedy (March 17), which takes an amusingly breezy look at the creation of a groundbreaking (fictional) 1970s erotic magazine for women. Headlined by the winning pair of Jake Johnson and Ophelia Lovibond, it’s a romantic comedy about multifaceted forms of liberation and equality—as well as a lighthearted romp marked by more full-frontal male nudity than you’re likely to find anywhere this side of Pornhub.

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Such sausage-fest explicitness isn’t intended to be titillating, really; Rapoport’s series depicts penises as a means of echoing its heroine’s egalitarian ethos. Joyce (Lovibond) has spent her life trying to realize her dream of publishing a magazine titled “The Matriarchy Awakens” that will feature the sorts of paradigm-shifting articles apt to earn her a Pulitzer Prize and, with it, the respect and admiration of Gloria Steinem. Yet at a Los Angeles conference where creators pitch publishers, she finds few receptive ears, due to a mock-up cover image of an angry woman raising a defiant fist, and the fact that she delivers every idea as if it were a simultaneous lecture and demand. It’s a testament to Lovibond’s effusive charm, then, that Joyce isn’t immediately an alienating presence, and her endearing smile and compassionate eyes make it clear why, for all her abrasiveness, she catches the attention of Doug (Johnson), a porn publisher who warms to her and, just as importantly, her casually mentioned idea of doing a magazine that objectifies men.

Doug is a huckster with a focus on profit, and he proposes a partnership on a new venture (titled Minx) that blends Joyce’s activist journalism and lots of layouts of unclothed men. In Joyce, Doug rightly sees a dedicated visionary, albeit one who needs to learn how to create material that doesn’t feel like “a teacher is yelling at me.” To help her figure out how to “hide the medicine,” he teams her with his crackerjack lineup of porn experts: bubbly and assured model Bambi (Jessica Lowe); talented photographer Richie (Oscar Montoya); and capable secretary Tina (Idara Victor), who’s the glue that holds the entire operation together. Before long, Joyce’s homemaker sister Shelly (Lennon Parham) has also joined the squad, whose commitment to turning Minx into a sensation is enhanced by its staff’s diversity of skin color, sexual orientation, and disposition.

The immense popularity of Burt Reynolds’ famous Cosmopolitan spread confirms that this motley crew is on the right track. Nonetheless, Joyce finds her smutty environs less than progressive and fights tooth and nail to keep Minx from simply wallowing in the lowest-common-denominator muck. The tension between high and low—embodied by Joyce and Doug—is the dramatic crux of Minx, whose sharp scripts both cast Joyce as the mouthpiece for ideas about feminism, and poke fun at her for her somewhat rigid notions about what’s best for women. Alternately pitting her against ugly chauvinists (like Stephen Tobolowsky’s country club cretin) and conservatives who have surprising lessons to impart to her about real power, the series never shortchanges Joyce’s convictions. Yet it also refuses to become pedantic, allowing gender-dynamic revelations to emerge from the push-pull between Joyce’s schoolmarmish stuffiness and Doug’s let-it-all-hang-out attitude.

Minx benefits from getting to the good stuff from the get-go; by the midway point of its premiere, it’s already knee-deep in Joyce and Doug’s collaboration, and that swiftness is characteristic of its confidence, not to mention its disinterest in sermonizing. It’s not long before Joyce is helping select fireman Shane (Taylor Zakhar Perez) as the premiere issue’s centerfold and cover star, as well as schooling him on the constricting grip that the patriarchy has on American women and men—and then promptly falls into a torrid affair with the beefcake. That Joyce subsequently discovers the joys of casual sex, and the difficulty of explaining them to her smitten—and newly enlightened—paramour, is one of the many instances in which Rapoport and company tackle their war-of-the-sexes subject matter with cheery good humor, forcing all of their players to constantly face—and reassess—their opinions about these hot-button topics.

Rapoport’s light touch is critical to Minx’s joviality, as is the rapport shared by Johnson and Lovibond, who have the type of yin-yang chemistry that’s destined to eventually blossom into amour. At least during its first five episodes, the series keeps their relationship platonic, but anyone who’s seen efforts like this knows that they’ve been conceived as an eventual couple, and there’s reason to think that’ll work, given that Joyce’s overeager energy is a nice fit for Doug’s laid-back cool. Johnson in particular shines at the outset. With a scruffy beard and a wardrobe of wide-lapel shirts, Doug boasts an interest in sleaze that never manifests itself as sleaziness; in order to keep the show from turning sordid, the character proves the most milquetoast porn impresario imaginable. While that may not be wholly authentic, it’s overshadowed by the fact that Johnson is in his element as a scruffy charmer who knows where he’s going, but also values the many women who are vital to getting him there.

It’s occasionally difficult to shake the sense that Minx might have fared better as a feature-length rom-com rather than as an extended series, since the course it’s charting feels too routine to require multiple seasons. Still, that’s a concern for a later day. Johnson and Lovibond’s gently clashing routine—and dual awakening regarding the many ways in which they can express, and promote, gender equality—is more than enough to keep the show from dragging, and the introduction and involvement of additional characters (such as Parham, who steals scenes as Joyce’s game-for-anything sibling) suggests that Rapoport has a plan to keep things lively down the road. Plus, if all else fails, she can always fall back on what Joyce and Doug realize is a surefire recipe for success: more dongs.

For more, listen to ‘Minx’ star Jake Johnson on The Last Laugh podcast.

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