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'Funny Woman' Recap: Episode 2

Daniel Hautzinger
Two writers sit and look skeptically at someone standing in front of them
The writers Bill and Tony have taken a liking to Barbara. Credit: Potboiler Productions and Sky UK Limited

Funny Woman airs Sundays at 9:00 pm on WTTW and streaming. Recap the previous and following episodes.
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Barbara’s career as an “exotic” dancer doesn’t last long. She can’t help herself from yawning while onstage, and then keeps mugging when it makes the audience laugh. She attracts the attention of a prominent theatrical impresario, who wants to meet her – for a threesome with another dancer. Barbara is appalled, and a fight breaks out amongst the dancers. She is kicked out.

Her agent, Brian, tells her the threesome was a missed opportunity – the producer is a big deal. But he has a better opportunity for her: the casting agent for the sitcom for which Barbara snuck an audition has called. The producer Dennis Mahindra wants Barbara to read for the part, against the casting agent’s wishes.

But Barbara misses the bus and is splashed by a car driving through a puddle, so she arrives late and wet. Still, Dennis and the writers Bill and Tony want her to read with the actor Clive to see if they have chemistry together. Clive asks her to do the posh accent written for the character, but Barbara struggles and immediately begins goofily ad-libbing. That’s how the whole read goes – to the delight of Dennis, Bill, and Tony. Clive wishes she would “just feed lines and look pretty,” but he accepts her.

Barbara is convinced they are turning her down, but cries and then laughs when she realizes they want her for the part.

They don’t have the final sign-off, however: the TV executive Ted Sargent does. She’ll meet him with Dennis tomorrow, and if he likes her, she has the job.

As they make their way to Ted’s office, Dennis gives Barbara some warnings and background on Ted. They find that Ted is ready to dismiss Barbara right away, assuming that she can’t be funny if she’s pretty; furthermore, his casting agent prefers someone else for the role. Barbara begins mentioning all the things Dennis warned her not to, including that he recently lost some talent – perhaps Bill and Tony might also leave if they don’t get what they want. Dennis argues that Barbara might appeal to new demographics, like the northern working class from which Barbara comes.

Ted asks for a new script tailored to Barbara, turning a posh character into a working class cleaning lady, and schedules a read-through of it in twenty-four hours.

Dennis, Bill, Tony, Clive, and Barbara all convene to workshop a new script, and Barbara makes her own contributions. Eventually they decide to name her character Barbara, not realizing that’s her real name – they know her by her stage name, Sophie Straw.

The script finished, Barbara returns home to rest – except that her ex-fiancé Aiden is waiting for her with flowers. Barbara’s Aunt Marie slipped him Barbara’s London address. He has been drinking to gin up some courage, and she joins him in drink as they quietly talk while Marge sleeps in the next room. He proposes again, she swoons, and they sleep – and drink – together.

Marge wakes to find Aiden naked on the couch and Barbara asleep in the tub with an empty bottle. Aiden wakes Barbara with breakfast, and she realizes she’s late for the read-through. She rushes to leave and tells him that she can’t accept his proposal: a new life is waiting for her.

She does her makeup on the bus and runs down the street in tights with heels in hand. Just as Ted Sargent is telling the casting agent to call the other actress and inform her she has the job, Barbara bursts through the door and falls flat on her face. She recovers – sort of – and sits for the read-through.

Ted tells the casting agent not to call the other actress after all, and says he’ll inform everyone of his decision soon. Barbara thanks Dennis profusely for the opportunity, while the writers get drunk together in perhaps premature celebration.

But then Brian knocks at Barbara’s flat door: she got the job.

Unfortunately, Ted has insisted that the critical, bigoted Bert Redwood direct the sitcom instead of Dennis. Barbara struggles with all the complications of rehearsing a televised sitcom and Bert ends up walking out, cutting short rehearsal.

Diane Lewis, a journalist there to write a story on Barbara, witnesses Bert’s tantrum. But she sympathizes with Barbara. She finds the sort of puffery she’s currently writing beneath her – she trained as a news reporter – but at least there are some perks. She gives Barbara her number and asks her to call sometime, so that Diane can take her to a hip club.

Before the dress rehearsal, Barbara pauses outside her dressing room to enjoy the sight of her name on a plaque, and once again thanks Dennis. He says he has always hoped to find someone like her – for acting, of course. He agrees with her when she rejects her appointed wardrobe as too glamorous for a cleaning lady, even though Bert is disappointed by the less revealing outfit chosen for her instead. Dennis also shuts off the monitors when leering cameramen zoom in on Barbara’s bust and butt.

Barbara does well in the dress rehearsal, pitching a new line that everyone loves. The taping is the next day.

Back at home, she receives her very first telegram – and rushes out to the public phone box in her dressing gown after reading it. Her father is in the hospital. Aunt Marie tells her to come home right away, but Barbara protests that people are relying on her for the taping. Marie warns her that George might not be alive in two days. First his wife and now his daughter have left him; it’s more than his heart could take, she tells Barbara.