In the new HBO Max series Naughty,Joyce Prigger (Ophelia Lovibond), a well-educated, upper-class writer, has big dreams of creating a hard-hitting feminist magazine that will capture the minds of her well-read, progressive female colleagues in the seventies. Instead, the only person who is willing to invest money in creating his magazine is a sleazy editor, Doug (Jacques Johnson), which wants to turn it into a “cheap” porn mag for women. Despite her initial resistance to the idea, Joyce eventually comes on board and a team is assembled to get Naughty operational. Throughout the season, various female characters are introduced, all with different backgrounds and different ways of living their lives. Some of them want to help Joyce with Naughty, and others want it destroyed. However, each of these women represents their own diverse experiences and, therefore, the many nuances that exist in the philosophy of feminism.
First up we have Joyce: the series’ protagonist and creator/editor of Naughty. Right off the bat, it’s pretty clear that Joyce lived a privileged life, having dated Vasser for undergrad and owning a posh country club membership. It’s no surprise that she’s repeatedly horrified by dealings within the porn magazine industry, especially Doug’s relationship with a mob boss. However, his ambition to obtain Naughty published outweighs her distaste for the unsavory route she took to do so. And despite her casual attitude, Joyce ends up appreciating what Naughty represents and challenges the men and women who express their negative opinions about it. Joyce’s form of feminism is what today we might consider a benchmark since she literally just wants equal rights and opportunities for women. But in the 1970s, her politics would have been a little more radical, and therefore looked down upon by comfortable housewives and most men.
Joyce’s relationships with men throughout the season represent her desire to be independent. She breaks up with her boyfriend, Glenn (Michael Angarano), at the start of the season because he despises her for “compromising” his magazine, and is visibly offended by her willingness to pursue his ambitions. Joyce then ends up having sex with Naughtyfirst cover model, Shane (Taylor Zakhar Perez), which gives her a sexual drive until she realizes that his feelings for her run deeper than his for him. From Shane’s perspective, Joyce used her position of power over him (both professionally and emotionally), which presents a refreshing twist on the usual story of a man using his position of power over a woman – and Joyce at least has the decency to sincerely apologize, realizing her mistake. Although things didn’t necessarily work out in either scenario, Joyce stuck to her beliefs despite what the man wanted.
But Joyce’s relationship with Doug is perhaps the most complicated of all. Early in their partnership, Joyce insists that her vision be followed, constantly having to argue with Doug over the logistics of the magazine. It’s only when Joyce and Doug continue the Dick Cavett Show in New York that she realizes how Doug undermined her throughout the process and how little power she has over the direction of the magazine. In keeping with her stubborn temper, Joyce confronts Doug over the issue, which ultimately results in her quitting. Naughty in a stand for his dignity. As the rest of the team tries to make the magazine work without Joyce, she spends time in New York figuring out what to do next. Despite her friend, Maggie (Gillian Jacobs), pushing to move to New York and work with her, Joyce decides to return to Los Angeles and fight for Naughty after realizing that she couldn’t let her dream die, despite the hardships that might lie ahead. It is a brave and powerful woman, all of you.
Maggie is introduced later in the season when Doug and Joyce make the trip to New York. At first, she’s there to comfort Joyce and give her a place to stay when the talk show goes awry. However, after hosting a dinner party with all her posh New York friends, it becomes clear how arrogant she is and how out of touch she is with people less fortunate or less educated than herself and her social circle. In terms of feminism, although Maggie stands up for women’s rights, she’s the type to only fight for the rights of women like her: upper class, well-educated, and uptight. At dinner, she makes comments that degrade the type of people who would be part of the production of Naughty, and whom Joyce defends like ordinary women doing their job. Maggie represents the type of feminism that is really only designed for a certain subset of privileged white women who care more about their own status than helping others find similar opportunities.
Bamba (Jessica Lowe) is the type of woman Maggie would despise because she spent most of her adult life as a model in the porn mag industry. However, Bambi is unashamed of her career and actually finds empowerment in her sexual and physical openness. She’s also excited to work with Joyce, who she says can teach her a lot about what it takes to be a professional. Although Joyce misjudges Bambi at first, who comes off as superficial at first, she (and viewers) quickly realize that Bambi has a lot more to offer than that, and his mysterious life probably hasn’t been all that easy. Bambi willingly lends its expertise to Naughty, coordinating models and photoshoots, and showcasing her leadership abilities. For someone who’s been able to rely on her good looks for so long, it’s empowering to see Bambi yearn for something beyond praising her looks, and it would fulfill her intellectually.
Tina (Idara Victor) is another of Naughtywhich represents a woman capable of more than what is expected of her. Tina has been with Doug for years and helped him start his company Bottom Dollar. She is the mastermind of the duo, often getting angry at Doug for his disregard for the financial side of things. Although Tina is very smart and overqualified for her position at Doug, the fact that she is a black woman in her 70s probably prevents her from finding similar work autonomy elsewhere. Although it’s frustrating that Tina is staying with Doug after Joyce leaves. Naughty and most of the other employees take her side, it’s understandable that Tina would want to keep her newly appointed job as editor, because America’s racism and misogyny – especially in the ’70s – would make it especially difficult for her to achieve this role to any other publication. Tina is a woman who knows what she wants and has been through too much to care what people will think when she comes after her.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have Joyce’s sister, Shelly (Lennon Parham). Shelly is a forward-thinking homemaker and mother of two who is discovering the world of Naughty to be a necessary escape from its comfortable suburbs. Shelly is a reflection of women who get married and have babies because they’ve been told that’s what they’re supposed to do, only to find that it doesn’t give them the same opportunities for growth as more independent single women. Throughout the series, Shelly realizes that she has become stuck in her life as a wife and mother and admits that she is sexually frustrated with her husband. However, she tries to do the right thing and postpones her work for Naughty for a while in order to be there for her husband and children, until she reached her breaking point without an orgasm.
Having developed a close friendship with Bambi throughout the season, Shelly confides in him about her problems in bed, which leads to them both becoming sexually awareness. Shelly doesn’t seem like the type to cheat on her husband willy-nilly, which means she must have deep feelings for Bambi and therefore likely experienced some level of sexual repression for a very long time. This opens up the possibility of an exciting new storyline on the show between Shelly and Bambi, examining what a 1970s housewife looks like to experience a sexual awakening with a female partner.
Although the characters we’ve looked at so far remain on the more progressive end of the feminist spectrum (at least by ’70s standards), Naughty also shows what opposite ends of the spectrum look like, from councilor Bridget Westbury (Amy Landecker) as an ultra-conservative housewife, to the radical college group Feminist Collective that Joyce speaks to in Episode 6. Councilwoman Westbury leads the majority of Naughtyand is leading the protests outside their apartment building. She is the personification of comfortable housewives who love their position in life and are afraid of what change would look like for them. They believe that NaughtyThe content of is offensive because they have been trained to be as genteel and polite as possible so as not to offend the man. The Feminist Collective, however, feels that Joyce is not doing enough with Naughty to advance the feminist agenda and tear down patriarchy. The group also protests against the magazine, but for not being feminist sufficient.
The contrasting female points of view that Naughty present in its first season is a refreshing exploration of women’s experiences. Although the stories revolve around a magazine full of naked men, the series does a good job of presenting thoughtful character arcs that offer plenty of insight into what motivates each of these women and how feminist ideals can be defended differently. Whether it’s Joyce’s essays, Bambi’s short skirts or Tina’s financial calculations, the female characters of Naughty represent different facets of feminism and the many subtle nuances involved in a woman’s life that directly affect how she might feel about her role in society.
You can stream all of Season 1 of Naughty on HBO Max. The series has not yet been renewed for a season 2, but hoping!
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