SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not seen “A Scintillating Conversation About a Lethal Pesticide” and “You Happened to Me,” Episodes 9 and 10 of “Minx,” now streaming on HBO Max.
Working on “Minx” has turned creator Ellen Rapoport into a spam sender.
“I got banned!,” says Rapoport, who also serves as showrunner and executive producer. “None of my emails were going through to WarnerMedia for weeks — and then we found out I was placed on some sort of do-not-accept-emails-from list by their IT department because of all the pornography.”
By “all the pornography,” she means the pride and joy of Joyce Prigger (Ophelia Lovibond) and Doug Renetti (Jake Johnson): Minx, a feminist magazine that doubles as erotica for women. Joyce dreamed up the magazine as a little girl, first calling it The Matriarchy Awakens and envisioning heady features about issues like birth control access and marital rape. But when Doug, a porn impresario, is the only publisher interested in her idea, Joyce must meet him in the middle as best she can. The two butt heads, and eventually erupt: Joyce quits when Doug betrays her trust and brings in a misogynistic public figure as a model to boost sales, and when Doug realizes how badly he’s messed up, he gives her the rights to publish Minx without him. They aren’t the only two in conflict: Tina (Idara Victor) is in the hot seat after striking up a romance with Doug “again,” which co-workers Richie (Oscar Montoya) and Bambi (Jessica Lowe) don’t support. And Bambi is left heartbroken after a spontaneous and sensual night with Joyce’s sister Shelly (Lennon Parham) ends with Shelly going back to her husband Lenny (Rich Sommer).
“Minx” hasn’t yet been renewed for a second season — “You’ll have to ask my corporate overlords,” Rapoport says — but that hasn’t stopped her from beginning to imagine characters’ futures. With Season 1 now completed on HBO Max, Rapoport spoke to Variety about the flaws of second-wave feminism, complicated office romances and what comes next.
What did your research process look like while developing this premise?
A lot of magazines. The feminist magazines at the time, and the porno magazines at the time. Everything from Playgirl to Viva to Ms. Magazine. I got a Newspapers.com subscription, and I read anytime they mentioned Playgirl or Viva. And what was interesting to me was that these magazines had female editors, and they were powerful! That’s a powerful position to hold at any time. And all the articles about them seem to be written by men, and they were always like, “She is powerful, but she’s also running around like a chicken with her head cut off! Here’s what her husband thinks.” It was this insidious sexism that permeated everything, even when the articles were meant to be complimentary.
Did you find much overlap between the feminist mags and the porn mags? Anything like in “Minx,” where the two go hand in hand?
I think we have the populism of Playgirl, and maybe the highbrow from Viva, but none of them would have been a clean comparison to the show that we’re trying to do. Their messaging was very confused. Playgirl would have feminist stories, but it would also have aphrodisiac recipes and dating quizzes and diet pills and very misogynistic beauty ads. The decade was such a collection of so many ideas and philosophies coming at you that the magazines really reflected that. So we had to streamline and make things work thematically for the show.
Speaking of confused messaging, “Minx” seems interested in pointing out the contradictions of second-wave feminism of the ‘70s, like in the way Maggie (Gillian Jacobs) looks down on sex workers and less wealthy, less educated women, and even the joke Tina makes when Joyce correctly assumes that she, the Black woman, was the secretary. How and why did you decide to construct the show that way?
Joyce is a product largely of second-wave feminism. In my mind, she was moving toward a more inclusive, more sex-positive point of view, which you could call third-wave feminism, and that’s what we’re trying to do. It’s an homage to the women who paved the way, but it also doesn’t hesitate to poke fun at the insularity of it. Even in [the real ‘70s] magazines, the sexism from white feminists is crazy. They literally say, “We will take care of ourselves first, and then we will move on to racism.” It’s startling! It’s like they said the inside part out loud, but they didn’t have any problem with it. It was a product of its time, but pretty insular and non-inclusive. So we definitely did not hesitate to poke fun at any of that, or to shine a light on it.
Doug is a helpful foil to Joyce in that way, as he forces her to see the brilliance of people she wouldn’t have associated with before the magazine.
In order for there to be a Joyce, there needs to be a Doug. In order for there to be a Doug, there needs to be a Joyce butting up against him. I liked the idea of somebody who you thought was sleazy, craven, a smut-peddling pornographer, who really at his heart is an intelligent businessman. I liked that they both were underdogs and fish out of water. And her snottiness and academic ivory tower thing, that veneer of success and acceptability in upper crust society, though he has a chip on his shoulder about it, he kind of wants it. So it felt like the two of them would have a symbiotic relationship.
How do you compare the power dynamics between Doug and Tina to the earlier arc with Joyce, when she sleeps with Shane, a Minx model, and it becomes problematic? Is the workplace romance more or less fair here since Doug and Tina know each other better?
This is decades before anybody was talking about consent in the workplace, and power dynamics in relationships. And I don’t know that I’m necessarily opposed to people meeting each other in the workplace — like, where else are you going to meet people? — but I think it’s a very different relationship from Joyce’s with Shane. I feel like her crime in that episode was on a personal level, rather than on a professional level. And I don’t think Doug or Tina would have the wherewithal to say, “This is an inappropriate workplace relationship.” But if you actually start to get into it, he has been keeping her in a secretary role for much longer than he should have. And it isn’t until they sleep together that he promotes her. There’s definitely some conflict there. But it’s just so early in the evolution of thought about that, I don’t think she would process that on a professional level, but rather the robustness of it on a personal level.
Onto another fraught relationship: Let’s talk about Shelly and Bambi. Shelly started the season living the life of an archetypical ‘70s housewife, but sees a lot of growth culminating in the moment when she grabs Bambi and kisses her. Was that always the plan for her character?
We knew that very early on. One of our writers, in our first Zoom together, told me a story about how his mom had realized she was a lesbian while he was in high school, in a time when that didn’t happen. I immediately was like, “Can we please steal that for Shelly?” It was a no-brainer. The two of them seemed like an interesting relationship to pursue, because each one of them saw something in the other that other people didn’t necessarily. Bambi is probably the first person who has ever thought that Shelly was funny. And Shelly sees this emotional intelligence in Bambi that I don’t know if anyone else gives her credit for. It just made sense to me that the two would be drawn together.
What comes next for them?
Shelly’s relationship with her husband and her own sexuality is something that we definitely want to explore in Season 2. I don’t know if we even know if she’s bisexual, if she’s a lesbian, if this is a one-time thing. It’s exciting, but also overwhelming to her. Fifty years ago this wasn’t nearly as accepted as it is now. And we have such a great actor in Rich Sommer, in Shelly’s husband. I think she also loves him. It might not be the most sexually satisfying relationship, but they’ve been together for decades. They have children together. There’s value to that. She’s in a place where she’s confused and not sure what she wants to do, and not even sure how she really feels. That’s definitely a storyline I’d like to see in the next season.
I definitely would like to expand on Doug and Tina’s relationship. We wanted to do their origin story in this season, but we didn’t have the space for it. I think there’s a rich and exciting backstory to them, and I’d love to have the opportunity to tell that story.
Will Joyce and Doug work it out? He gave Minx back to her to publish on her own, but is that what she wants after all this time?
I think it’s complicated. I think that he needed to give it back to her, and that really completes his arc over the season of just trying to get what he could from her and seeing her as a means to an end, and ultimately giving back the things he wanted most in the pilot.
At the end of the day, in my mind, these two do need each other. Each one has something the other lacks. She has a passion and an idealism that now, more than ever, is compelling to him, because he doesn’t have that. He’s not someone who stands on principle when money is involved, although we’ve seen [Joyce] influence him as the show has gone on. And she’s learned so much from him. I’m excited to explore the possibilities of where we left them. That publisher-editor relationship is just inherently fraught. Somebody’s always the money, and needing to make money off of someone, and the other person is the creativity and the ideas. Is Joyce capable of doing it on her own? Or is that something she’s going to thrive at? Maybe! We get to find out.
This interview has been edited and condensed.