PHYSICAL – Review by Susan Granger

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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.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.