Jake Johnson knows exactly what he’s doing on HBO Max’s Minx. On the period comedy series which chronicles the fictional story of Minx – a feminist magazine in the 1970s with male nude spreads ala Playboy – Jonhson plays Doug Renetti, the publisher at Bottom Dollar, which publishes titles including Milky Moms. Secretary Secrets, and Feet Feet Feet. Johnson’s dynamic, confident performance as Doug works against expectations for the actor, while still integrating his signature effortless allure that made New Girl’s Nick Miller an icon.
On the surface, Doug is the ultimate 70s sleaze. At the beginning of the first episode, Joyce (Ophelia Lovibond actress), a Type A feminist with a dream for a magazine for women meets Doug at a magazine festival where people can pitch their magazine ideas to publishers. Doug’s hair is long and uncombed, he has a scraggly beard, and he unbuttons his button-down shirt to reveal his chest hair and gold medallion necklace. He’s smoking a cigarette. Joyce rolls her eyes at Doug (to be fair he does a little mansplaining), and assumes he is also there to pitch an idea for a magazine. Joyce learns at the end of their conversation that Doug is a publisher. Doug is, shockingly, more interested in Joyce’s idea for a feminist magazine than Conde Nast. “Chicks are changing,” he says. But there’s a catch: the magazine has to have dicks in it.
As the series progresses, Jake Johnson’s performance gives Doug more and more layers, a challenging feat for a character with such a unique look who makes his money off of selling sex. Doug is a complicated guy: he’s charming, progressive, devoted to his work and hopelessly devoted to the success of Minx as well as a button-down in a loud print with tight flared pants. But while Doug is championing a feminist magazine, he still has some setbacks that indicate he desperately needs to read his own publication: he calls women chicks, and he sends Joyce away during business conversations. He also does business with the mob and other nefarious characters.
Jake Johnson made an impact with his role as Nick Miller, the messy but lovable bartender with a Peter Pan complex on FOX’s New Girl, who, it must be noted, did not think that towels need to be washed. Johnson’s performance as Miller felt so authentic and personal that Nick Miller became Jake Johnson. On Minx, Johnson is pushing against that with ease. Nick and Doug are both a bit sleazy at first glance, but beyond their irresistible charm (despite their glaring flaws), they don’t have much in common Nick Miller was a bit lazy, insecure, and lacked ambition whereas Doug Renetti is confident, fearless, and driven.
At the end of Minx’s third episode, Doug orders drinks at a bar for himself and his business partner Tina (Idara Victor): a Maker’s and a banana daiquiri. The bartender hands the Makers to Doug, and the banana daiquiri to Tina. Without a word, Doug picks up the tiny umbrella-clad banana daiquiri in front of Tina, while Tina picks up the Makers.
This is the kind of narrative nugget that only works if the performance is working. There was never any indication that Doug enjoys fruity cocktails. Instead, it’s the small, delicate details and layers within Johnson’s performance that sell the moment and make it make sense. It’s Johnson’s awareness of his charm that makes him so good. On New Girl, Johnson captured an almost childlike charm, the male equivalent of the girl-next-door. On Minx, Johnson confidently carries loud prints, bellbottoms, gold chains, and chest hair — and the unlikely mentor role. Frustratingly endearing and slightly cheesy characters are what Jake Johnson does best, and on Minx he’s proving he has so much more to offer than anyone imagined.