Saved from extinction, "Minx" is back with an even richer and more complicated second season

Season 2 introduces Elizabeth Perkins and the new version of the question of what price we assign to our ideals

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published July 21, 2023 3:00PM (EDT)

Minx (Starz)
Minx (Starz)

Nightmares don't lie. Two of them pop up early in the second season of "Minx" involving red carpets. One shows the magazine's founder Joyce Prigger (Ophelia Lovibond) traipsing before a press line, laughing merrily as she strides underneath a marquee announcing her as a billionaire pornographer.

The other is essentially the same, except this time Joyce isn't the one stepping out of a Rolls Royce to wild cheers and flashing bulbs. That pleasure goes to Bottom Dollar CEO Doug Renetti (Jake Johnson), the smut publisher who launched her dream of publishing a serious feminist periodical, albeit one incorporating full-frontal male nudity.

At his side is his longtime partner, lover and business manager Tina (Idara Victor), who joins him for the ride along with their other Bottom Dollar employees Bambi (Jessica Lowe), who claims the title of CFO — Chief Fun Officer — and Richie (Oscar Montoya), now BDP's art director, "which is an actual title," he clarifies. Joyce arrives much later and is all business, ignoring the press and marching into the theater with little joy in her step.

That probably has something to do with the event announcing the relaunch of her magazine – it's a screening of the 1970s' most notorious skin flick, one that's only feminist in its loosest possible interpretation.

Welcome to the crotch of the sexual revolution, i.e.1973 or so. It was a hazy daze of an era when the feminist firebrands had yet to figure out that selling liberation would be a lot easier if they could convince the oppressed that their side was having a lot more fun. We still haven't quite grasped that, but as Season 2 Joyce has made an uneasy peace with her mainstreaming progressive ideas by serving of peen beside the polemics.

Doug handed Minx's ownership back to Joyce, but as an old-school nudie mag chief, he hasn't entirely accepted ceding his power over to a woman. Especially this one.

Here's the thing – one of those bad dreams isn't a dream at all. It's a scene from their real life that makes some ecstatic and others question everything they stand for. Each also foreshadows what's in store for Doug, Joyce and everybody touched by Joyce's topsy-turvy world.

Every dream has a price. The challenge is picking the right pocket. Joyce accepts overtures from multiple publishing companies, all headed by white men delivering the same pitch placing her in the same league at two or three dead famous women and Jackie O. In the end, she goes with another legendary woman who's also filthy rich and has zero publishing experience: Constance Papadopolous, played by Elizabeth Perkins.

MinxMinx (Starz)With Constance backing Doug and Joyce, their odd couple partnership blooms anew, albeit with major thorns this time, mainly related to ego. Scrambling to pay their bills and stay two steps ahead of the forces trying to put them out of business, including cops and conservative politicians, made the Minx team a killer creative combo.

But everyone who isn't Joyce begins to wonder if they're getting everything they deserve. And Joyce, a Vassar graduate, has a pedigree that Constance recognizes, but she also sees potential in the other scruffy underdogs — save, maybe, for Doug.

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Johnson's rumpled delivery extends the mileage of what becomes an extended joke that stops being funny after a point, which is Doug's knack for sniffing out goldmines but just missing the X with his pickax. One moment happens as he's desperately trying to squeeze money out of a potential investor by pitching him on the potential of a periodical about a new fitness craze sweeping the nation. And what would it be called? Runner's World, maybe? Men's Health? Nope. "Joggin'!" Doug says. "No G!"

Although Joyce, Doug and the rest of the "Minx" team strive to be on the leading edge, the conceptual arc of this season is the familiar scenario in which the underdogs are suddenly pushed to the front of the pack by a tsunami of money and influence. In success, even when their gains appear to be equally distributed, resentment always sprouts. You can almost see where this new leg of the journey is going to derail. Almost.

Still, what prevents Ellen Rapoport's funky period piece from tripping over its good intentions is the crisp humor and the writers' refusal to make anyone the easy hero or predictable villain.

Speaking of nightmares – not Perkins, to be clear; her casting was a divine stroke of insight – knowing a  second season of "Minx" almost didn't happen probably caused a few. This scrappy gem was nearly a casualty of the Max title purge before Starz came to its rescue. It's a good thing the premium cable channel appreciated what Warner Bros. Discovery did not, because as good and satisfying as "Minx" was before, it is firmly hitting its rhythm in this second go-round.

Season 2 barrels through the impossible quest to match one's idealism with capitalist realities.

Every actor amps up the personalities they establish in the first season. Lovibond still plays Joyce as a physical contradiction, a woman whose passionate devotion to the liberation of her sex is genuine but who can't quite bring herself to loosen the seams and buttons of her pantsuit. She could learn from Tina's confidence in her power, and Victor reminds us of that every time she's in frame, giving one of the best performances of the ensemble. Added to the sheer joy Lowe and Montoya bring, they convey the sense that the energy is more evenly spread around the full troupe.

MinxMinx (Starz)Lennon Parham also delivers as Joyce's sister Shelly. who awakens Joyce to the untapped market and libidos of suburban housewives in Season 1. The latest episodes explore what it means for Shelly to be fully plugged into her erotic self, pulling her husband Lenny (Rich Sommer) along in a subplot that makes the highest use of Parham comedic talent while expanding her character's dimensionality. 

And Shelly's chemistry with Lowe's Bambi, Bottom Dollar's former in-house fluffy bunny, also grows more complex. Constance, the newcomer with the most power, should eat all of these people and has a history that says as much.

Against those expectations, and thanks to a place Perkins lands on that sits somewhere between ferocity and pragmatism, Constance is supportive and assertive, molding Joyce into a power player instead of simply a writer.

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Through its performances and dialogue that gaily bubbles, simmering in the appropriate places, watching "Minx" is less about marveling at its period accuracy that witnessing the joy congress between well-rounded characters and a freewheeling mood. A few special appearances by a few superstars of 1970s intelligentsia cements its sense of place and Joyce's new place in the world, including a multi-starship crash involving Carl Sagan, Annie Leibovitz  — shooting for Rolling Stone — and Linda Ronstadt.

The flip side is that this still remains a story told from Joyce's perspective, shining lesser light on the struggles Tina faces as a Black woman in this mostly white, straight world. Where the second season does a better job of highlighting the inconsistent support feminists lend to other groups is through Richie's professional journey, which leads him to ask whether he's outgrown a company that publishes titles like "Feet, Feet Feet." More than this, he starts to question whether Joyce's progressive stance also includes supporting equal rights for Minx's LGBTQIA readership.

Alongside the costumes and cinematography soaked in California sunshine and cigarette smoke each 30-minute episode flies by. I hate to say that the inability to binge this season may not do it justice, especially the first two episodes, which are best viewed as a pair..

But maybe this slower pacing is a good thing. Otherwise Season 2 barrels through the impossible quest to match one's idealism and values with capitalist realities, something each "Minx" persona grapples with differently. "When the world is knocking at your door," Joyce observes, "it's very hard not to put up a wall. With spikes." Nothing so intimidating is in the way of finding this show – and for a good time, more people should.

The second season of "Minx" premieres at 9 p.m. Friday, July 21 on Starz. 



By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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Elizabeth Perkins Jake Johnson Minx Ophelia Lovibond Review Starz