What if Diane Chambers launched a porn mag for women in the 1970s? HBO Max's new fun and cheeky half-hour comedy about the launch of feminist-minded nudie mags in the 70s may not directly be a love letter to iconic 80s sitcom Cheers (there's too many penises on screen per minute for that), but its difficult not to watch Minx and not see that comparison to the bar where everybody knows your name.
Set in 1972, Minx is about a strident feminist named Joyce who wants to get her dream project off the ground and onto newstands: a feminist magazine titled "The Matriachy Awakens." A chance encounter at the SCMPF (Southern California Magazine Pitch Festival) between Joyce and low(ish)-rent porn magazine publisher Doug leads to Joyce grudgingly bringing her magazine idea to his company.
Together they put together a magazine filled with feminist articles and pictures of naked guys. It seems out of step with what women are interested in seeing today. But in the 70s, seeing photos like this was welcomed and not an uncomfortable reality of dating apps.
The inspiration for Minx is obviously magazines like Playgirl, but very specifically the relatively short-lived magazine Viva from 1973-1980.
While it has a salacious subject at its core, Minx is a proper laugh-out-loud comedy that has such a lovely, sweet cast of characters that you almost want to bring the whole family together to watch it. Or, at least you would if it wasn't for all the dicks on screen.
Minx is happy and cheerful, smart TV for grown-ups.
Ophelia Lovibond (what a great name) caries the show in what is undoubtedly a star-making performance. As Joyce, she is a prissy, know-it-all strident feminist (who ticks a number of the expected stereotype boxes) with an extreme likability. It's a classic comedy set-up with a fish-out-of-water lead. What makes the show sing as wonderfully as it does is that while Joyce may look down at her new co-workers, with their comparatively crass and earthy worker-class attitudes, she treats them all well as people and does her best to relate where she can.
Of course, it is a two-way street - they're a fun crowd who think just as little of Joyce's academic view on the world as she does of their unenlightened views.
Lovibond is complemented well on-screen by co-star Jake Johnson (Nick from New Girl) as low-level porn publisher Doug.
Doug isn't interested in publishing The Matriachy Awakens. He is opportunistic and knows that he isn't able to do much more than he has already with his stable of five or so regular skin mags, so he is looking to publish something with a unique perspective - something that speaks to the future. He's not gross - he is just a business owner who found his niche and is working to better his financial position in the world.
It would be easy for the Doug character to be portrayed as a sleaze, only in it for the money. But with Johnson, he feels authentic as a hard-working small business owner who has no shame doing what he does. There's a lovely scene in the first episode where Joyce visits Doug at home who is very much living a typical suburban life. She's surprised by the general politeness of Doug's home with its well-manicured garden. As he off-handedly comments, it is the sort of home he always wanted for himself.
It is not a long bow to stretch to see Doug as a very Sam Malone character when paired alongside Joyce. Like the Cheers bartender, Doug is a small business owner with a lower-class set of cultural interests. But he knows that there is a more affluent, 'proper' class of people that he would be happy mingling in and code-switching back and forth with, even if their tastes don't align with his own. There was a reason Sam was attracted to Diane in ways beyond the physical. And the same goes here for Doug.
Unlike Cheers, Minx (at least in its initial five episodes as provided to critics), isn't predicated on a will they/won't they relationship between the two characters. Sure, the show may go there later on, but these early episodes are about finding a mutual cultural and professional meeting ground. Doug is attracted to Joyce, but it isn't a romantic (or physical) interest - it is that he supports her passion and viewpoint, but also knows that it is in their shared interest that he helps her make them more palatable, more consumable by the general public.
While Minx is, very traditional in a lot of ways, echoing much of the TV that we have seen over the years (and I don't mean that as a criticism), what is especially interesting is the conversation the show is having with a modern audience. Right now the culture, especially evident with younger early twentysomethings, is having a minor culture war over depictions of sex and sexuality on screen. There is a vocal cohort of younger viewers who continue to question and shout down sexual content on screen. As though years of sex-less Marvel, Harry Potter, and other sex-less Hollywood product simply have them uncomfortable with nudity and sex on screen.
This show, much like HBO stablemate Euphoria, is open to honest conversations about sex, nudity, and how that relates to our humanity. It is gleefully very sex-positive and a great reminder that sex and nudity are supposed to be fun. Especially on screen. Without my parents watching it with me.
Minx streams in the US on HBO Max and is available here in Australia on Stan. The first two episodes are streaming now.