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Tuesday, July 5th, 2022  

Physical (Season Two)

Apple TV+, June 3, 2022

Jun 03, 2022 Photography by Apple TV+ Web Exclusive
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Spandex, leotards and leg warmers, even more a symbol of the ‘80s than shoulder pads and big, teased hair. Also, the Apple TV+ original series, Physical, set in 1982, is back for Season 2. The half-hour dark comedy starring Rose Byrne as Sheila Rubin, the ambitious housewife with a severe eating disorder who has become an aerobics addict-turned-instructor, picks up where Season 1 left off.

To recap: Sheila’s obsessive routine involves a loud, cruel voice in her head berating and belittling her, pushing her to purchase large amounts of junk food, go to a motel room, lay out the food meticulously, get naked, eat everything in sight, then, of course, purge it all. Sheila discovers aerobics at the mall and the exercise helps her hate herself less. She turns her aerobics instructor’s low-rent operation into a sexy and exciting experience, which she videotapes and sells. At the same time, Sheila is dutifully supporting her uber-liberal husband’s bid for public office, so he can push their mid-century Berkley graduate radical liberal agenda.

“Don’t You Want Me,” the first episode of Season 2 starts the day after election night. Danny (Rory Scovel), Sheila’s husband has lost. Sheila has taken up the corporate production company on their smarmy offer (delivered by a wonderfully hate-able Wallace Langham) to professionalize her videotape operation and put her in their portfolio of best-selling products. The start of her fitness empire dream, she thinks. Danny has turned house husband, which he is surprisingly good at, fitting right in with the school drop-off moms, plus, their daughter, Maya likes being with him better than her mother.

Bunny (Della Saba), Sheila’s one-time aerobics instructor, and her surfer boyfriend Tyler (Lou Taylor Pucci) are destitute after Sheila’s desertion. They’re trying to make their own fitness video. Homemade and shaky, it’s not quite happening for them. Plus, they’ve lost their place and are living with lice-ridden wasters.

Greta (Dierdre Friel), Sheila’s, for lack of a better word, “best friend,” is coming into her own. Her vacuum cleaner buzz cut is growing out into a stylish hairdo. She has discovered her husband’s wild sex proclivities are a match to hers, giving her a ton of confidence. She’s looking good and sounding almost assertive, but she’s still more than a little in love with Sheila.

Sheila’s secret motel behavior has extended her public mutual masturbation with uptight and blank-faced Mormon real estate developer/mall owner John Breen (Paul Sparks) and become the site of their now, full-blown affair.

Short, fast-forward clips of the future show that Sheila did, in fact, become the fitness superstar she’s chomping at the bit to be. Right now, she’s at the low level of shilling her videotape in bulk product supermarkets and dusty discount department stores, alongside cheese cubes and wall clocks. She’s not getting very far with it. This is partially due to the fact that she hasn’t figured out how to make women like her yet.

That unfortunate quality is a key one of many factors that makes Physical such an excellent show. Sheila is conniving, unkind, fake, deceitful and opportunistic. Yet, she is the most sympathetic character. Byrne’s portrayal is so flawless, the voiceover narration of her thoughts is entirely unnecessary. Her facial expressions relay everything that voiceover is spelling out.

Physical’s humor is subtle and clever, which is just the right tone to match Byrne making the pain of an eating disorder and accompanying destructive behavior all too real. Even when she’s in a private place with only viewers watching her, Byrne’s portrayal of Sheila’s hiding from even herself is nuanced, but razor-sharp. There are a lot of roadblocks before Sheila gets everything she is working for and none of them are rehashes of those she navigated in Season 1. This is a brand-new hell for Sheila, with enough redemptions along the way to keep you rooting for her. (www.tv.apple.com/us/show/physical)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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