The success of shows like Hacks, Abbott Elementary and The Marvellous Mrs Maisel at this year’s EMMY Awards show that female-led comedy is finally getting the attention it deserves. Women’s voices are in abundance, and this year a new comedy from HBO Max landed firmly in the funny feminist circle, and it brought with it a bucket-load of knobs. Literally.
The first episode of Minx – a period comedy created by first-timer Ellen Rapoport, about ambitious, yet horribly naive Joyce Prigger’s attempts to publish a feminist magazine, titled The Matriarchy Awakens – finally has a UK home on Paramount Plus.
Set in 1971, Joyce (played by Brit Ophelia Lovibond, Izzy in W1A) has a life-long ambition built on a foundation of Gloria Steinman, the Kinsey Scale, and the burgeoning sexual freedom of the American woman to bring feminism in periodical print to the masses. Her sights are set someplace much higher than the loins of her readers, that is until she meets Doug Renetti (Jake Johnson, best known as Nick from New Girl).
Rejected by everyone at a publishing fair, only Doug shows Joyce’s po-faced, shouty journal any interest. The only problem is, Doug is a pornographer. With 12 magazine titles on the shelves (including Naughty Nurses and Asian Asses), he’s a very successful one, and thanks to a throw-away comment from Joyce that if he’s going to do porn it should at least be original, “Feature old people maybe? Or a male nude centrefold?” Doug sees a version of Joyce’s magazine that could open his business to a whole new audience.
Of course, Joyce – who corrects others’ grammar and peppers her conversation with French – is not all convinced that the way to sell her feminist manifesto, is sandwiched between pages of naked man-fest. However, after Doug’s insistence that she needs a “dog pill in peanut butter” approach to getting her message across, a pep-talk from her suburban, married sister, and a sing-a-long to I am Woman, Joyce – who has only seen 2.5 penises in her life – dives into the world of printable porn.
There is a huge similarity between Minx and Netflix’s GLOW. Joyce is very much the uptight, self-righteous, Ruth, and Doug is the grumpy, seemingly-sleazy, but ultimately sharp-minded and good-hearted Sam. Joyce and Doug have the same sparkling chemistry as Sam and Ruth (though so-far without the romantic undercurrent), and their coming-togethers and blowing-aparts as they put together Minx – the new, catchy name for Joyce’s women’s lib with willies magazine – are what drives the show along. Also, did I mention the penises?
The dongs are oft and regularly on screen, in a myriad of comedic and casual ways – there are no coyly positioned vases and books, and it’s a delight. As someone who is old enough to remember Page 3 and the like of The Sweeney, which would have naked breasts practically as scenic wallpaper, it’s satisfying to see todgers in the same indifferent abundance. Though of course, Joyce’s first encounter “auditioning” dongs along with the rest of Minx’s team, leaves her a tad more flustered.
As with GLOW, the ensemble is where the heart of Minx lies, and here Minx is a lot like HBO Max’s other period comedy from this past year – Julia. It may seem an odd comparison, given Julia’s much less prurient subject matter, but both tell a similar story of a woman in a man’s world, striving to produce the thing she is passionate about, and get it to a wider audience. It also has the same plucky group of colleagues-come-friends who come together to help reach that end, broaching each new complication that arises (from advertising vibrators to dealing with the Mob) with determination and imagination.
It’s clear that each member of Joyce’s own Scooby gang has been under-appreciated in some way in their own life and career thus far, and Minx offers each a chance to shine and find a meaning in life they didn’t know they needed. Talented photographer Richie; steadfast secretary and the real brain-power behind Bottom Dollar publishing, Tina; blonde bombshell model Bambi, who stuns Joyce by reading the Kinsey report as part of her “homework” for working on Minx; and Shelly’s whip-smart housewife sister Shelly come together with their talents and heart, and provide the mattresses for Joyce to fall back on when inevitably her ideals and reality clash.
Ophelia Lovibond is outstanding as Joyce, bringing a real spirit of Shelly Long as Diane in Cheers to priggish Joyce Prigger. Her comedic timing is excellent, and she imbues Joyce with a vulnerability and endearing openness as her idealism falls away from her eyes, and she expands her own version of what feminism in the real world actually means.
Jake Johnson plays brilliantly opposite her as the louche publisher who is forced to regularly bring her to earth with a bump. Doug is believable as both the guy who meets with the Mob, but fills his office with people others would overlook, giving them a chance when others would walk away. He’s the typical grouch with a heart, which is best seen through the eyes of his secretary Tina, who is not just his business-right-hand-woman but is also clearly in love with this man that she can see right through. In a way, he’s as much an idealist as Joyce, as he feels brilliant ideas should work, as he flies by the seat of his pants, and fails to see pitfalls in his lack of forward planning.
Each relationship on the show brings something to the table for the audience and characters themselves, with lots of delightful surprises revealed (such as Shelly’s vast experience with vibrators, or Bambi’s semester at Visser) ensuring they each have a rich life of their own, outside of their positions at Joyce and Doug’s side.
The writing is honed and clever, with laugh-out-loud set pieces and dialogue that cracks along at a pace. Ellen Rapoport and her writers never rest on their laurels, and utilise the period setting impressively, whilst still managing to make bold statements about feminism today. (Episode 7, gloriously titled God Save the Queen of Dicks features a radio show presented by 2 right-wing, misogynists which could just as easily be any number of podcasts from 2022) It also, of course, looks sumptuous, with the California setting adding that 70s golden glow to the visuals.
It’s a show that will take you by surprise. Full of warmth and with plenty of things to say about feminism and womanhood. With a second season already confirmed, it’s another hit from HBO Max and well worth subscribing to Paramount Plus for.
And did I mention the dicks?
Minx is available in full on Paramount Plus in the UK and HBO Max in the US.