Imagine, if you will, you’re at an event — something you’ve been looking forward to for a long time, something that’s important to your career — when, right as the introduction starts, a person with no sense of personal space inserts themselves into your big day. Maybe it’s a man. OK, it’s almost always a man, so let’s say it’s a man with a scraggly beard, wearing a cheap suit, who’s smoking a cigar, and those literally toxic fumes are surrounding you. Rather than stop when asked politely, he not only keeps smoking, but tries to start a conversation (while the event’s spokesperson is still spokes-speaking!). He then tells you not to get your hopes up about what’s about to happen; that it’s a one-in-a-million shot you’ll walk away with anything but cold, hard rejection; that you should just come talk to him, rather than go through with the whole rigamarole.
As far as first impressions go, this one is pretty terrible. But here’s the thing: First impressions are built on assumptions. Maybe this guy is inconsiderate, or maybe that was the only place he’s allowed to smoke. Maybe his advice tilted into mansplaining (to a demoralizing degree), but it could also be true and straight from the heart. Maybe his offer to talk reads as inappropriate, or maybe he’s just networking at a networking event.
Tearing down assumptions to find common ground is integral to “Minx,” Ellen Rapoport’s HBO Max comedy series that begins with the scene painted above. Jake Johnson’s Doug Renetti introduces himself to Joyce Prigger (played by Ophelia Lovibond) outside the 1971 Southern California Magazine Pitch Festival, where the former is trying to sell her years-in-the-making feminist periodical, “The Matriarchy Awakens,” to publishers decidedly not like Doug. How could her dreams of winning a Pulitzer coalesce with those of the Valley’s printed porn king? How could her ideal magazine, featuring substantive articles like “Marital Rape: When a Crime Is Not a Crime,” run alongside “High Heel Hoochies” and “Milky Moms”? I mean, just look at him. How could this swearing, smoking billboard for sex possibly help her connect with the women’s intelligentsia?
Of course, he can. That’s a given to anyone who’s watched TV before, but “Minx” draws savvy parallels between its two leads in order to emphasize the untapped connection staring each of them in the face. Pilot director Rachel Lee Goldenberg introduces Doug as Joyce’s shadow: hidden behind her profile until he peeks out to say hello. Their style may be split — she’s typically shrouded in three-piece suits, while he can’t be bothered to button his shirt above the belly button — but they’re tied to together by splashes of color. But most of all, they’re both tired of being dismissed and, despite their own presumptions as to why, they don’t quite understand the reason neither of them is exactly where they want to be.
As the duo starts working together (out of a Van Nuys warehouse as grungy as it is bursting with life), “Minx” layers their life lessons with exciting subversion. Joyce’s disbelieving boyfriend (Michael Angarano) isn’t as easily dismissed as his narrow-minded initial antics imply. Her sister (Lennon Parham), a stay-at-home mom, isn’t a chastened housewife, but an encouraging and open-minded joy. The office staff (including Oscar Montoya and Jessica Lowe) doesn’t need to be won over; they hold no ill will toward Doug’s new pet project — they’re excited to be asked to try new things, learn new things, and share their own knowledge. And “Minx” doesn’t hide behind its 1970s setting in order to surround Doug with a white male workforce (or even white male adversaries); Tina (Idara Victor), his right-hand, responds to Joyce requesting tea by way of introduction with, “I’m not the secretary. I’m just Black.” There’s an array of perspectives steering “Minx,” and even with Joyce as the lead, her own view on the world is far from infallible.
Katrina Marcinowski / HBO Max
With episodes tackling double standards. ego management, and the ethics of respecting unethical authority figures, it would be easy for the half-hour comedy to come across as preachy, or simply slide into the No Man’s Land between drama and comedy, where laughs aren’t as important as saying something. But again, “Minx” refuses to fit into a preset box. Jokes are plentiful and land with gusto. The cast has an immediate chemistry that feels both natural and well-honed. Johnson, a normcore sex symbol thanks to “New Girl” (back when normcore was still a thing), has an engaged rapport with everyone around him, while Lovibond channels two iconic Dianes — Keaton and Chambers — with an ebullience unique to Joyce.
“Minx” can feel like the West Coast sister series to David Simon’s New York-set “The Deuce”; without a whiff of danger, it’s as though Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Eileen Merrell skipped Candy’s time on the streets, went straight into porn, but found the nicest, sweetest collaborators who only wanted what’s best for her. The kindhearted series also isn’t far off from “Big Mouth” in its enthusiasm to eradicate shame and stigmas from humanity’s natural beauty and impulses. But after just five episodes, it’s clear “Minx” has its own story to tell. As far as first impressions go, this one is fit to print.
“Minx” premieres Thursday, March 17 with two episodes on HBO Max. Two new episodes will be released weekly until the 10-part first season concludes April 14.
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