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Gemma Arterton is radiant and transcends the show, turning Funny Woman into something watchable, and even enjoyable at times.

Funny Woman (Sky Max) is comfort food in television form; it’s a simple but often endearing little series that takes you back in time to the swinging sixties. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel it is not, but it has enough charm and just the right amount of simple nostalgia to be enjoyed as stocking filler throughout those cold winter nights. This six-part series is adapted from Nick Hornby’s 2014 novel “Funny Girl”, but now consists of a more mature title and as well as becoming more of a drama with comedy aspects, rather than a straight-up comedy-drama like it was dubbed. It might not be to everyone’s taste, but if you did succumb to your intrigue by tuning in, then you will stay for the performance of Gemma Arterton, who is the undoubted star of the show, to the point she carries the weight of the series on her back.

It's the height of the 1960s, and Barbara Parker (Arterton), a bubbly Northern girl working in her father’s stick of rock factory (of course) has just been crowned Miss Blackpool. But the joy is short-lived, Barbara is sure this can’t be it – will this really be the crowning achievement of her life, a beauty pageant winner in a place no one has heard of? Barbara dreams of stardom and a life of glitz and idolising Lucille Ball, so she sets off for London, leaving her fiancé, auntie, and supportive father George (David Threlfall) behind in the quirky seaside town.

But a journey to the top is never as straightforward as it should be, with Barbara taking a little detour in her adventure by working in a department store in the hat section. Her plucky Northern spirit is not appreciated by her boss who constantly apologizes for her smart remarks and bluntness by saying, “she’s from up North,” which is something she will hear a lot of on her way to the top. But it’s not long before Barbara and that electrifying personality of hers are spotted by a talent agent, a certain Brian Debenham (portrayed by a slightly underutilised, prosthetic and fat suit-wearing Rupert Everett who appears for about five minutes each episode), and the auditions come pouring in – although, it’s a comedy that

Barbara wants to succeed in, not the sleazy roles on offer. She is already fighting an uphill battle for just being a woman, and when you’ve got people like Ted Nugent (a bitter TV executive) whose mindset is that of, “In my vast experience, good looks and comic ability rarely go hand in hand. The girl is in the show to play the voice of reason, not to play the fool,” it just adds fuel to the fire in Barbara’s quest for success.

Fighting her corner though, the team that offers her a starring role in a sitcom is led by the show’s producer Dennis (Arsher Ali) who might just be falling for Barbara’s (now with the stage name of Sophie Shaw) aloof personality. Dennis won’t have it his own way though because the sitcom's co-star Clive (Tom Bateman) also has his eyes firmly fixated upon the endearing charm of Barbara. Will she fall for Clive’s ruggedness and flashy lifestyle, or become smitten by the intellect and sincerity of Dennis?

For a comedy-drama, Funny Woman really suffers from a lack of comedy. Some quirky and humorous lines are scattered throughout, but they are few and far between. It’s the parts that are meant to be funny that struggle the most, like the super cringey and awkward to-watch auditions where Barbara attempts some horrible slapstick routine that’s been meticulously fiddled with to become even more unfunny – now, who would have thought that was even possible? It becomes very reliant on jokes about her Northern upbringing too, as well as her whimsical and often naive approach to things, such as saying “Eau de toilet” instead of the usual “toilette”, or the look of concern when one of the show’s writers tells her to “break a leg” – it all becomes a little bit tiresome after the first 12 times of mickey-taking.

This is a contemporary approach to the olden days, and as you’d expect, there are a lot of modernisms that make everything seem slightly in tune with the present day. Dennis says he would like his sitcom to “talk about poverty, privilege, the sexual revolution, gender inequality,” something very abnormal in that day and age. But just to remind you that this really is the 60s, then the pastel colours, and specific song choice of popular music, while also name-dropping the likes of Mary Whitehouse and Frankie Howerd might rejig your memory in case you forgot at all.

Unfortunately, the premise of a funny Northern girl making it big in 1960s London alone is just not enough to make this a worthwhile piece of television. The script isn’t as snappy as it would like, and the comedy aspects are fleetingly seen throughout. But the show’s saving grace is that of the majestic Gemma Arterton – and the person who cast her in the lead too. She is radiant and transcends the show, turning into something watchable, and even enjoyable at times.



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