It's a Week of Firsts on 'Funny Woman's Third Episode

Gemma Arterton as Sophie Straw graces the cover of magazines in Funny Woman Season 1

Gemma Arterton as Sophie Straw in Funny Woman Season 1

© Potboiler Productions; © Sky UK Limited

This week on Funny Woman, a slew of firsts for Sophie: her first live recording of a sitcom before a live studio audience (an episode that then airs on tv! And is approved for an entire six-episode run!), first tampon use, first chat show appearance and groovy nightclub visit, first prominent magazine profile, first deli visit and purchase, aaaaand first ill-advised falling for a costar. Look, these experiences can’t all be winners, but they’re all happening against the backdrops of her dad being the best, her coworkers adoring her, and her friendship with Diane continuing to develop, which is pretty great.

The scenes where the Jim and Barbara team work together are my favorites. I love the shagginess around the edges that come from seeing creative work in progress (a bit of meta-ness that suggests some on-set improvisation of Funny Woman as well as Jim and Barbara), and while those very broad, slapsticky jokes wouldn’t fly on a sitcom now, it’s easy to see how effective they are at both being very silly and meeting Dennis, Tony, and Bill’s goal of smuggling in more progressive commentary on gender, class, and sexuality. On shooting night, there are some bumps along the way – Sophie’s period arrives a week or two early, necessitating a wardrobe change and a quick lesson on tampon insertion, and she bumps into a camera, sending Bert into a fit of rage — but none of that matters, because the pilot is enough of a hit with both its studio and broadcast audiences that Ted Sargeant approves a full 6-episode run.

Barbara races back to Blackpool after shooting the pilot to be with her Dad and Auntie Marie. He’s newly home from the hospital following his stroke and on the mend, but there’s no medicine like fully justified fatherly pride. Seeing Barbara do her thing in prime time is a balm for his soul, and even Auntie Marie, who respectfully donned a fancy hat for the special viewing occasion, allows that it was good, although she’s “not sure about all the kissing & cuddling at the end.” That’s the nicest thing she’s said to Barbara so far – I’ll take it!

Mike Prior as Val Doonican, Kenneth Collard as Burt Redwood, and Gemma Arterton as Sophie Straw in Funny Woman Season 1

Mike Prior as Val Doonican, Kenneth Collard as Burt Redwood, and Gemma Arterton as Sophie Straw in Funny Woman Season 1

© Potboiler Productions; © Sky UK Limited

Barbara feels so guilty about having been away from home that she resolves to remain in Blackpool, even after receiving the news that Jim and Barbara have been approved for a full season. Auntie Marie is briefly relieved/triumphant, but George insists that she follow her dream, saying, “If you don’t, I’ll have another stroke!!” That settles it, then! Sophie – in a super-cute ice blue sweater & orchid cigarette pants ensemble — heads back to London and to the writers’ room, where Bill’s suggestion of an episode about a gay man married to a woman evolves into an exploration of Jim’s sexual performance anxiety. Jim’s physical issue doesn’t arise from illness, though; he’s a virgin, and Barbara is the partner with a bit of sexual experience.

Unsurprisingly, Clive’s nose is out of joint at once when they settle on Jim having not yet made his sexual début and having a psychological block about it — “No one will believe I’m a virgin! I mean, look at me!” — but Sophie saves the day by suggesting that Barbara might think the situation is somehow her fault. Bill isn’t sold but acquiesces when Sophie says she finds it sexy for a man to express feeling upset and emotional about something so personal. Bill’s attachment to this plotline isn’t just about razzing Clive. Although razzing Clive is a terrific and intrinsically valuable pastime, this is actually about Tony. In the previous episode, Bill needled Tony about the state of his sex life with his wife, June. Tony’s discomfited response, that he and June are “working on all that”, suggests that Tony may have chosen to insulate himself from the perils of being out in an era when queer sexuality was still criminalized. 

One of the strengths of Morwenna Banks’ writing is her ability to provide strong character development with a brisk economy, and it’s a particular boon for Matthew Beard and Leo Bill, who play Bill and Tony, respectively. It’s clear that these two have been friends as well as writing partners for a long time, and that Bill is about as out as it was feasible for him to be in 1964. Perhaps they were lovers at some point, or perhaps it’s just that Bill is incapable of sitting normally on chairs or sofas and, when tipsy, indulges a penchant for resting his head in Tony’s lap. Either way, the strong sense of history between these characters adds more texture to the world of Funny Woman

Tom Bateman as Clive and Gemma Arterton as Sophie go on a public date in Funny Woman Season 1

Tom Bateman as Clive and Gemma Arterton as Sophie in Funny Woman Season 1

© Potboiler Productions; © Sky UK Limited

In the same texture and depth-furnishing column is journalist Diane, returning to write a profile of Sophie for Nova, a new kind of magazine for a new kind of woman. With a photographer in tow, they head back to Lewis Peters for a fun on-the-record shopping date. Sophie’s presence ruffles Miss Sykes to such a degree that she starts a scene over a hideous fur hat that had been her first clue that the then-Barbara wasn’t cut out for a career in obsequious retail. The ensuing hubbub has a cheeky, slightly chaotic charm and ensures Sophie will never be shopping there again. No matter! She’s destined for more mod, contemporary looks, like the slinky, barely-there sequined minidress Diane suggests for Sophie’s upcoming appearance on the light entertainment talk show hosted by Irish singer Val Doonican.* 

(*Doonican was a fixture on British TV well into the 1980s, and thanks to his eponymous talk show airing on ABC for many years, was fairly well-known in the U.S., as well. There are tons of clips on YouTube for the curious and for those longing for a trip down memory lane.)

The less said about Sophie’s subsequent date with the lecherous and un-funny comedy magician she meets during this appearance, the better. All we need to know is that Sophie and Diane cement their bond of friendship by figuring out how not to accept an offer of cocaine and escaping the dull clutches of Mr. Magic. I love that Diane is such a role model of sophistication for Sophie, particularly when it comes to navigating the groovier corners of the city and its nightlife.

If only she knew that Sophie needs romantic advice, too. Sophie and Clive fall into bed together in an impulsive fit of “Oh, why not — let’s give them something to talk about!” Clive has heard that Dennis frowns on on-set romance, so they agree to keep it quiet, but there’s no way that resolution will last. Their on-camera smooch at the successful conclusion of Jim and Barbara’s quest for healthy sexual function is too real-looking not to be real. After Tony remarks on the first-rate chemistry between their leads, Bill peers into the monitor and declares, deadpan, “They’ve [REDACTED].” Surely, this will progress healthily and happily for all involved!

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Funny Woman

Barbara Parker heads to London to take on the male-dominated world of comedy by storm.
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Bits & Bobs:

  • We briefly meet Dennis’s wife, Edith. She comes off as a bit of a humorless toff, embodying the ethos of the “tweedy posh lads with pipes” Barbara was expecting Dennis, Bill, and Tony to be. I reserve judgment until we get to know Edith better and wish to note her incredible taste; the Mohindras’ home, like the decor at CTV HQ, makes me feel that I’ve died and gone to mid-century modern heaven, but even better, thanks to the antiques nestled cheek-by-jowl with the contemporary pieces. We love a bit of eclecticism!
  • Best exchange of the episode: 
    • Sophie arrives late to work, saying, “Sorry! I got my stiletto stuck in a manhole cover!” 
    • Bill, fondly and almost to himself, murmurs, “She never disappoints.”

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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