In 'Funny Woman' Episode 2, She’s Gonna Make It, After All

Gemma Arterton, Tom Bateman, Matthew Beard, Leo Bill as the cast of The Jim & Barbara Show in 'Funny Woman' Season 1

Gemma Arterton, Tom Bateman, Matthew Beard, Leo Bill in 'Funny Woman' Season 1

© Potboiler Productions; © Sky UK Limited

Funny Woman's second episode is another 45 minutes of Barbara Parker / Sophie Straw very casually (and only occasionally with intent) running rings around every man she encounters. Clive Richardson’s smarm doesn’t intimidate her; Dennis Mohindra, Bill Gardner, and Tony Holmes are all delighted to fall under her spell; Brian Debenham’s grouchy outbursts are basically meaningless; Aidan The Handsome Butcher traveling all the way from Blackpool to make a romantic gesture is not enough to put a ring on it; walking heap of garbage and TV director Bert Redwood finds himself outmaneuvered at every turn; and even the big muckety-muck at TVC (which is definitely not the BBC!!) Ted Sargent is no match for Sophie once she follows Marj’s advice and imagines him copiously answering nature’s call. All in a day’s work for this gal!

A quick note on our funny woman’s name: I’m going to refer to her by the name others call her in her various milieux. Among family and with Marj, she’s Barbara. In all work-related contexts, she’s Sophie.

After flaming out spectacularly and correctly at the Whiskey-Cat Club — where the dancers are paid so little that they maintain extra sex work side hustles — the next day finds her at Brian’s office, where, after a bit of groveling and some tactical nudging by Patsy, he finally tells her that she’s actually got a second audition for the Comedy Playhouse pilot with Dennis and his merry men. Brian grouses (but also seems secretly pleased) that Dennis “really thought she had something” in her previous audition. Well, well, well. Off she goes to try again, in an exuberant, Mary Tyler Moore Show-style montage through London, until... she gets thoroughly splashed by the bus she was meant to take to the audition. 

Matthew Beard as Bill Gardiner and Leo Bill as Tony Holmes are both Team Sophie in 'Funny Woman' Season 1

Matthew Beard as Bill Gardiner and Leo Bill as Tony Holmes are both Team Sophie in 'Funny Woman' Season 1

© Potboiler Productions; © Sky UK Limited

Even though she arrives drenched and with a now-illegible script in hand, Sophie crushes the audition and nearly crushes Clive’s spirit in the process. Her gift for improvisation — witty retorts, lightning-quick physical comedy — destabilizes this man who, moments before, was condescendingly explaining terms like “chemistry read” and “RP.” He can’t keep up, but neither can he argue with her talent. Besides, Dennis, Bill, and Tony are all firmly on Team Sophie. If you’ll pardon the bold mixing of unrelated cultural allusions, resistance to Sophie Straw is futile; she’s the human embodiment of a fizzy lifting drink, elevating the material at every turn. She’s in. Gemma Arterton’s relieved weeping turns quickly to wild laughter here, calling to mind Emma Thompson’s relief-to-joy sobbing as Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility when Hugh Grant’s Edward Ferrars is finally free to declare his love for her.* 

(*Apologies to anyone for whom I have spoiled this totally unexpected twist in Ang Lee’s perfect adaptation of Jane Austen’s marriage plot-driven 1811 novel!)  

The one remaining hurdle is Ted Sargent, the director of comedy programming at TVC. Ted is very self-important, but he’s earned some of that by being good at his job, except having lost legendary comedian Tony Hancock to “the other side” of commercial television. Once again — with Dennis’s suave assistance and using only a soupçon of what he delicately refers to as Sophie’s “antics” — they leave conditionally triumphant, having secured a table read for the next morning with an updated script tailored to Sophie’s skills, accent, and regional identity.

This episode is strongest when the full Jim and Barbara ensemble work together in the writer’s room and rehearsals. Admittedly, I’m a process person, but even considering that, it’s just so fun to watch competent people do what they do best. – I will give a couple of extra points for the degree of difficulty; not every show about show business can dramatize behind-the-scenes material successfully. Funny Woman pulls it off through a combination of zippy pacing, glimpses of Clive’s (excruciatingly incremental) dawning appreciation of Sophie’s contributions, the fun of the collaborative writing and rewriting process, and lively on-set antics. They’re like a bowl of particularly creative puppies, the kind of chaos only a dedicated churl would dislike.

Arsher Ali as Dennis Mohindra standing in front of the TVC logo in 'Funny Woman' Season 1

Arsher Ali as Dennis Mohindra in 'Funny Woman' Season 1

© Potboiler Productions; © Sky UK Limited

This brings us to Bert, who is the Worst Man of the Episode. He’s got some real competition, too! He’s unprepared, resentful, racist, and sexist. After flouncing out of a regular rehearsal (where he pretended not to know that Dennis’s surname is Mohindra), he then arrives late to the dress rehearsal and spends a lot of time complaining about Sophie’s costume being insufficiently revealing. I live in the fervent and possibly feverish hope that he will suffer a non-lethal accident that will prevent him from doing any further work on Jim and Barbara. What a tool.

It’s a genuine pleasure to see Sophie coming into her own more, bit by bit, in this episode. In addition to convincing Ted to approve her casting and successfully negotiating a costume she can move comfortably in, and suits her character, she later hits it off beautifully with Diane Lewis, a writer from Cherry magazine (think Seventeen), who arrives to interview Sophie at the behest of CTV’s PR department. (No interview for Clive, though.) And oh, yeah, she also firmly turns down Aidan’s misguided, if good-faith offer of “a second chance” and marriage.  

The episode ends on a distressing note that makes me very eager for Episode 3 – Barbara’s sweet Dad suffers what looks like a heart attack or stroke at the candy factory, and Auntie Marie lays one heckuva guilt trip on Barbara, claiming that her running off has made him ill. She insists that Barbara return to Blackpool at once, but she’s got a pilot to shoot tomorrow!

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Funny Woman

Barbara Parker heads to London to take on the male-dominated world of comedy by storm.
Funny Woman: show-poster2x3

Bits & Bobs:

  • Do I detect a tiny hint of a “Norwegian Wood” reference in Barbara, having crawled off to sleep in the bath the night before the big read-through? Aidan is left alone, and his (former) bird has indeed flown! 
  • Funniest moment of the episode goes to an exchange between Sophie and Tony, who is racing through rewrites and suggests something about Barbara’s cookery.
    • Sophie: “I’m useless in the kitchen; I once burned water!”
    • Tony: “Right, we’re having that line, thank you!”
  • The TVC headquarters building deserves a shout-out for how groovy and stunning it is. A bit of poking around led me to the following: it’s the former head office of the Pilkington Glass Company in St. Helens, Merseyside. This drone footage shows off the building beautifully, particularly its narrower face, clad in massive tiles of varying shades of blue. Wow.

Sophie's Selfie

Sophie has been happily steeping in the potent brew of British TV since her parents let her stay up late on a Thursday watching the Jeremy Brett adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. She loves mysteries, espionage thrillers, documentaries, and costume dramas, and if you're not careful, she might talk your ear off about the Plantagenets. Sorry about that in advance! 

You can find Sophie on all the platforms as @sophiebiblio and keep an eye on her bylines from all over the internet via her handy portfolio.

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