Series finales have a lot of work to do, and that sometimes can go double for the finale of a show’s first season as it tries to stick the landing for the first time. The goals they aim for can support and/or undermine one another. That baked-in tension can lead to the final episode being overstuffed, rushed, or both. Being overstuffed and rushed doesn’t preclude the episode from having enough oomph to be a satisfying watch, though it does dilute the degree of narrative elegance that we’ve come to expect.
This is exactly where we find ourselves with Funny Woman’s first series finale. After five episodes, the sixth and last installment has left itself lots of ground to cover. There are several plot lines to tie up, plus there are new plot lines to seed for the (confirmed) second season, confrontations and collaborations to dramatize, and a mostly happy ending to deliver. Let’s go!
Please note: All of my thoughts below are also presented through the lens of what might happen in the second series, as Funny Woman has been renewed and just completed that shoot. Though the series has not been confirmed to return to PBS as yet, here’s hoping to seeing it back sometime in 2025.
Let’s cover the iffy bits, the Room Of One’s Own Things To Improve Next Season, first. These are Clive’s exit (sadly, it doesn’t involve being pursued by a bear, but we can’t have everything); and whatever puppetmaster-type role Brian has been playing in Sophie and Clive’s lives. Remember that weird conversation over martinis between Clive and Brian in the previous episode? It seemed off to me, and maybe it was a victim of editing, but things seem even more off here, and only fractionally clearer by the end of it.
I think what’s happened is that Brian is the actual source of the blackmail photos that he used to maneuver Clive into proposing to Sophie. Perhaps the press wasn’t as involved as Clive assumed? Regardless, Sophie has had it up to here with Brian’s skeevy, controlling ways, firing him at the Jim and Barbara series wrap party. She gives the stalwart and kind Patsy’s hand a squeeze on the way out, so perhaps we can look forward to seeing Patsy again, working under her own auspices next season?
When Clive announced his departure for a starring role in a new TV drama in the US, I was caught between the giddiness of “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!” and the disbelief of “When did this happen and how?” That Clive hides it from Sophie and then tries to sell it as a good thing for both displays how poorly he understands Sophie as a person, partner, and professional. Worse, it’s an admission of his insufficiency for her in all three categories.
Clive recognizes and admires Barbara's ambition but winds up wriggling out of the whole thing by admitting, “If I stay [in London], I'll just end up a bit player in The Sophie Straw Show.” He should be so lucky! Like another certain very famous Barbara, our Barbara/Sophie is everything, while Clive is just…Ken. If there was any doubt as to the viability of their engagement, now we know it’s over.
On to better things!
Somewhere in the liminal space between “Ehhh, Not Quite” and “Oh, Well Done” lies Sophie and Dennis’s inevitable and eagerly awaited smooch. The execution is just a bit too last-minute to work as intended; it feels rushed and almost like an afterthought. It’s got potential but is too insubstantial as a culmination of what’s been brewing between these characters over the last six episodes.
Fortunately, an itemized list of what does work is much longer. At the top of the Well Done List sits the continuing excellence of the friendship among Sophie, Diane, and Marj. They show up for each other, they genuinely enjoy each other’s company, and they’re all at interesting turning points in their lives and careers. By the end of this episode, both Sophie and Diane have taken big swings for their own autonomy and integrity.
Diane’s on-air rebuke of and resignation from the news magazine she’d been co-anchoring because of how little her co-anchor supported her while platforming the racist, xenophobic spewings of Enoch Powell is a far bigger risk than Sophie’s, and I hope it pays off next season. I also loved Sophie’s “You Can Do Anything” speech to Jim and Barbara’s live studio audience. All season long, she’s been working towards a full articulation of her self-definition and what she wants to accomplish as a creator of popular art, and this speech captures a great deal of what makes her — the real Sophie, who is also Barbara — so appealing and good at what she does.
Hot on its heels, we get Barbara’s conversation with her long-absent mother, Gloria, played by Olivia Williams. This moment is a touch melodramatic, but whomst amongst us could make it through that kind of encounter without raising our voices or getting choked up? To have this professional triumph witnessed by the parent who abandoned her decades ago rather than by the parent who raised and nurtured her is a lot to process. I hope season two will revisit Barbara’s history (and perhaps Sophie’s future) with her mother a bit more. (Why bother casting Olivia Williams for just one appearance?)
The Well Done List overlaps a great deal with my Dear Writers, More Of This Please! Requests for more Tony and Bill, getting to know Edith better, and more time spent on Marj’s and Diane’s respective journeys. Tony and Bill’s scene about how much they treasure their working friendship is more moving than I expected, and I’m so keen to see where things go for them as a team and as individuals. Will Bill publish — perhaps anonymously, to spare himself arrest and incarceration? — a novel about what he delicately calls “the other part of my life”? What will they be able to write together that CTV wouldn’t permit now that they’ve signed a deal with “the other side”?
Congratulations to Tony and June on their impending parenthood! When Ani, Lacy, and I had a nice chat about the first half of this season of Funny Woman on the Telly Visions podcast (now available wherever you listen to your shows!), Ani said she’d love to see Sophie and Bill sharing a flat. I can’t stop thinking about what a fun, rich vein of character development that would provide.
Edith Mohindra has turned out to be more complex and interesting as this season has unfolded, and I hope we’ll get to know her better next season. No “will they get back together?” nonsense, please! Edith is going to remain the second-most important person in Dennis’s life for the next good long while; it’d only enrich Funny Woman for her to be able to shed any last vestiges of villainy as she grows more three-dimensional.
And finally, our last Bits and Bobs of the series:
- The costume design has been so good, top to bottom, and it’s clear that costume designer Pam Downe pulled out all the stops for the series finale, which featured three absolute bangers:
- A mustard yellow turtleneck paired with a burnt orange a-line miniskirt, and accessorized with a long, skinny scarf in autumnal shades, a brown belt, and tall brown boots
- A creamy mohair sweater whose deep, ribbed collar gives it a bateau neckline, worn over a tweed miniskirt in pastels, and accessorized with a cream-and-light-blue-polka-dotted hair scarf and tall brown boots
- The piece de résistance is a cornflower blue mini-shift dress with rows of burnished gold paillettes at the neck, worn below a matching coat with a white fur collar.
- I’m assigning Funniest Moment not to a specific joke, but to the brief homage to the immortal Tropicana Tracking Shot in Goodfellas. (Funny Woman uses “Be My Baby” for this moment, while Goodfellas used “And Then He Kissed Me,” but the songs share songwriters Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, and Phil Spector’s unmistakable Wall of Sound on both songs furnishes the same vibe.)
What a genuine treat it’s been to watch and think through Funny Woman. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, too – let’s do it all again next year!