I’m stunned that this Apple TV+ half-hour comedy-drama series was just renewed for a second season.
Set in San Diego in the 1980s, it revolves around troubled Sheila Rubin (Rose Byrne), a svelte housewife/mom who has an inexplicably strange self-image, resulting in chronic bulimia, a serious eating disorder. This is manifested by her buying lots of fast-food, then taking it to a motel room, where she gorges and purges. It’s binge-eating, resulting in self-disgust.
Waiflike, flawless Sheila constantly voices her self-loathing thoughts in an inner-monologue, a toxic stew of self-hatred, delivered to the audience, reiterating that she’s fat and gross, while simultaneously disparaging other women, like dowdy Greta (Dierdre Friel), cruelly noting: “You can’t stop looking at the back fat spilling out of her bra strap.” And the detestable term “fat ass” is overused.
Bizarrely, Sheila’s devotion to a strenuous exercise routine leads to self-empowerment when she joins energetic Bunny (Della Saba), a hard-boiled aerobics instructor from Lebanon and Bunny’s lover/videographer Tyler (Lou Taylor Pucci), to make a videotape that turns her into a spandex-sporting fitness/lifestyle guru, complete with leg warmers.
Each sour episode begins with some version of “Let’s Get…,” as an homage to Olivia Newton-John’s 1981 hit song “Physical,” released during the aerobics craze that swept America at that time.
Created by showrunner Annie Weisman (Desperate Housewives), it bears a remarkable resemblance to the life/career of Jane Fonda, particularly when Sheila helps her chauvinistic, self-centered husband Danny (Rory Scovel) run for assemblyman, just as Jane Fonda used profits from her workout tapes to help her then-husband, leftist activist California politician Tom Hayden.
(Jane Fonda also suffered from bulimia; her first exercise video, “Jane Fonda’s Workout,” debuted in 1982 and became the highest-selling VHS ever).
After adroitly portraying Gloria Steinem in FX’s historical miniseries Mrs. America, Australian actress Rose Byrne does an admirable job with this unlikable, obsessed character. But she needs more substantial material than in this flimsy, first 10-part series.
On the Granger Gauge, Physical is a caustic, strident 6, rarely delving below its sketchy superficiality.