Funny Woman (Foxtel/Binge) is another entry in the female comedy genre after the huge success of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel (Prime) and Hacks (Stan). Like the others, it is fabulous but instead of being about a stand-up comic, it’s about the making of a British sitcom.
When Brighton beauty queen Barbara (Gemma Arterton above and below) decides she wants more in life than parading around in a bikini, she ditches her butcher boyfriend (Home & Away’s Kyle Pryor) and moves to London, where she is given the stage name of Sophie Straw.
Based on the Nick Hornby novel and co-written by Morwenna Banks, Funny Woman appears to be set in 1965, given references to the new TV shows of that year, Till Death Us Do Part and The Val Doonican Show. Unfortunately, someone else talks about Barbara Windsor being cast in her first Carry On film, but that happened in 1964.
Funny Woman is a fictional story set against a real backdrop where men were in charge and women had to fight for the crumbs. Sadly, there was never any real British producer of Indian heritage like Dennis Mahindra (Arsher Ali), but he’s there to show the racism he would have faced, had such a thing been possible.
When Dennis tries to cast an authentic actor to play a Pakistani character, the role goes instead to Spike Milligan. It is a reference to that comedian’s habit of “browning up” to play such characters, like the short-lived Curry and Chips (YouTube). That sitcom was so staggeringly racist and nasty, it was ordered off the air in 1969 by the Independent Broadcasting Authority after just six episodes.
Funny Woman’s six episodes are much more worthy and Gemma Arterton is delightful in the title role. She gets excellent support from David Threlfall playing her father, and Rupert Everett who is truly hilarious as he throws away all traces of vanity to play her ghastly agent.
One incident, however, is a direct steal from American TV. As seen in History of the Sitcom (SBS ON Demand) and Being Mary Tyler Moore (Foxtel/Binge), it was Mary who first demanded she be allowed to wear pants and flats, instead of a dress and high heels, if her character was cleaning the house on The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961).
Mary’s other iconic sitcom, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, was a massive part of my childhood. Brisbane’s Channel 0 stripped it every weeknight at 6.30pm just as my family sat down to eat dinner. Everyone loved it, but it’s fascinating to learn more about Mary from her insightful documentary, and how much it meant to those who had never seen a woman like her on TV before.
Don’t miss Mercado’s column last week: Prime’s Deadloch and the lead character that will keep you watching
Read even more Mercado on TV here.
Welcome to TV Gold: The all-new weekly TV podcast
Well, the name is new! So is the email address asking for feedback and question – [email protected].
Listen now on your favourite podcast platform for 30 minutes of TV reviews and recommendations every week from Mediaweek’s Andrew Mercado and James Manning.
This week on TV Gold: The Idol, Year Of and Funny Woman
The Idol is igniting debate about the merits of the sex-soaked saga from HBO (Binge/Foxtel) just days after it replaced Succession in the schedule. Also on the show this week we look at the Bump spin-off, Year Of (Stan), and the brilliant British period drama Funny Woman (Binge/Foxtel).
Email the hosts: [email protected]