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Lennon Parham Is Doing Excellent Work on Starz' 'Minx'

By Chris Revelle | TV | August 18, 2023 |

By Chris Revelle | TV | August 18, 2023 |


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Minx is a special show that bridges two interests in pop culture: a fascination with the past and a fascination with pornography. Series that look to our past to recap and reflect on major cultural moments seem to be popping up lately with the likes of Gaslit and White House Plumbers reexamining the Watergate scandal, Winning Time looking to re-stage the Lakers’ rise to Showtime supremacy in the 1980s, and no end of Yellowstone spin-offs wondering “what if white people were gritty and tough in the early 1900s?” The fascination with pornography has lived on in the likes of The Idol, but was combined with ruminations on the past in recent (and just-okay) series like Pam & Tommy and Welcome to Chippendales. Minx treads this path too, by looking back at the heady days of the 1970s to tell stories about sex, sexuality, pornography, and feminism with a focus on women and their experiences. In the character of Shelly, played with so much humanity and warmth by Lennon Parham, we see one woman’s quest to find herself and what she really wants that begins to question what a potentially queer person’s place is in the sexual revolution of the 70s.

On the other side of this gif are spoilers for season 2 of Minx, so be warned!

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Shelly is a suburban wife and mother who lives with her sweet husband Lenny (Rich Sommer) and her two kids. At the end of the first season, Shelly realizes an attraction to Minx (the magazine)’s “chief fun officer” Bambi (Jessica Lowe), and acts on it in a rush of queer discovery. For Bambi, this is no big deal; she’s been around many blocks and has a cheerful been-there chill about the whole thing. For Shelly, this is more fraught. Up until this point, she had been the maternal, sensical, and heterosexual woman who doted on her family and her sister/Minx editor-in-chief Joyce (Ophelia Lovabond, a very enjoyable name to say dramatically), not to mention how this represents infidelity in her marriage to Lenny. Season 2 opens with Shelly and Bambi very nearly being caught by Lenny as he returns home early from the dentistry where he works. Shelly insists they can’t fool around like this again and recommits to her marriage. Lenny can tell something is up though and because he’s a sweetie pie, he offers himself as a partner in figuring things out. He doesn’t know about Shelly’s queer attraction to Bambi yet, but it turns out he’s not exactly vanilla himself.

Did anyone else squeal when the show jumps forward six months and reveals that Shelly and Lenny are hosting full-on swinging parties in their home? That’s right, they ship the kids off for the evening, invite their neighbors over, and pair off for a night of sex with someone who’s not your spouse. Lest you think Lenny or Shelly aren’t having the time of their lives together, we catch them in a moment on the stairs where they high-five over how good they’re giving it to their friends. Stories about swinging or open relationships are usually tinged with some kind of discontent and drama, maybe owing to the internalized notions of monogamy being the only moral or ethical choice, so it was refreshing to see these two excited instead of conflicted. It’s as if they discovered a new shared interest and the nights they get to do this hobby together seem to really benefit their relationship. They’re saucy and playful with each other, canoodling in front of their grossed-out kids in ways they didn’t seem to before.

Shelly is discovering more about herself than a penchant for swinging. During the party, Shelly appears to be a budding domme with how she barks mid-coitus commands and refers to herself as Bella LaRouche, a sexy mistress of the night. She’s also a budding writer as we see her record all the swinging adventures in a diary marked with Bella’s name. What’s Lenny’s nom de sex? Gian-Paul! He’s also encouraging Shelly to return to Minx as her time there working with Bambi seemed to make her happy. When Shelly goes back to work at Minx, she publishes stories out of her sex diary under the Bella LaRouche name with Joyce (and presumably everyone else) believing these to be wild fiction. Bambi and Shelly immediately fall back into their easy friendship, but the tension is palpable. Bambi attempts to initiate sex, but Shelly rebuffs her, explaining with sheepish tones and tempted eyes that she wishes for them to be friends.

It’s evident that for all the sexual liberation Shelly has experienced, her potential queerness isn’t quite as free or open. Minx recognizes how the sexual revolution was stridently hetero and how men would pay lip service to the idea of liberation because it gave them easier sexual access to women. Sexual exploration was a grace extended to straight people but notably withheld from queer folx. We see this in Shelly’s secretiveness about her sexuality and in how she doesn’t feel comfortable engaging with it even after her liberation as Bella LaRouche. Bella and Gian-Paul may be the swing king and queen of the cul-de-sac, but it appears to be with other heterosexual couples only. We see evidence of this double standard elsewhere on the show, particularly with the photographer Richie (Oscar Montoya) whose more overtly queer photo-spread ideas are subdued to soothe anxious advertisers. For as open as the sexual revolution was, it was narrowly contained to heterosexuality.

Parham is doing such excellent work on this show as Shelly. She’s a favorite of mine whether she’s playing characters on Comedy Bang Bang, starring with her best friend Jessica St. Clair in the underappreciated Playing House, appearing as Selina’s sycophant Karen Collins on Veep, or directing episodes of the wonderfully emotional Somebody, Somewhere. There’s an earnestness and unvarnished honesty to Parham’s performance. She consistently floors me with her ability to bring as much heart as hilarity and makes Shelly one of the best parts of Minx’s world.

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.