Forget feel-good TV, Rose Byrne’s Physical is a show of barbed shine

The thing I like the most Physical is the series’ unwavering refusal to be likable. Titled by Rose Byrne and her abundant Jaclyn Smith-like hair, Apple TV+’s acerbic 1980s comedy-drama about a San Diego housewife who finds personal purpose with the advent of aerobics is driven by the sting of self-hatred. Now in its second season, the series is full of warmly amusing period details and dry dissatisfaction; for the main characters, happiness is almost always an illusion that dissipates far too quickly. The lack of kindness is compelling.

The loudest voice — so loud it’s almost a separate character that deserves its own billing — is Byrne’s Sheila Benson’s interior monologue. He’s been there since Sheila’s first sighting in 1981, gazing disdainfully at herself in a mirror and delivering a verdict she’s desperate to share but terrified others will know. “Do you really think you pull this off?” she asked with rhetorical bitterness. Since then, each episode has tested this notion, so much so that the line between bending and breaking is no longer clear.

In Physique, Rose Byrne plays Sheila Benson, a harassed wife and mother who finds fulfillment in treating exercise like an exorcism.Credit:AppleTV+

Sheila’s psychological make-up regularly proves staggering: a remnant of student activism from the 1960s to the days of Ronald Reagan, a harassed wife and mother who can only find fulfillment by treating exercise like an exorcism. , the possessor of deep childhood trauma, and a serial deceiver whose bulimia drives her to binge and ritually purge junk food in a motel room. Byrne wears it all, whether it’s Sheila’s armor or her possible annihilation, with a telling undertone. You can see its many parts at once.

Created by Annie Weisman, whose previous writing and producing credits include Desperate Housewives and The path, Physical takes the classic male antihero and reverses the concerns – a real family instead of a crime family, a fear of speaking out instead of acting ruthlessly. Like Sheila, the series has acquired its own identity: there’s a characteristic shot of Byrne’s protagonist, head-on as if the camera and the audience watching are now that mirror, which almost forces you to make instant judgment when you see it harden.

The half-hour episodes have an almost light-hearted pacing, as the show often dispenses with the connective tissue that fills an hour-long drama, but the second season digs satisfyingly deeper. Sheila’s hunger for a successful aerobics empire – she wants to be on TV – has a jarring impact on her. She wants to leave her important husband, Danny (Rory Scovel), but he beats her to the fist, vowing to do better. “I’m going to take over for my gender,” he promises, beating Sheila into admitting his own defeat.

She has an awkward back-and-forth dynamic with her sometimes best friend Greta (Dierdre Friel) that allows for both of their needs, while Sheila also has an affair with her progressive husband’s adversary, the pious promoter real estate John Breem (Paul Sparks). The easy dodging of the series’ realism to flirt with the fantastical or establish an absurd flippancy made Breem and his flat poker face a foil for Sheila and advanced one of Physicalunderlying fascinations of: what happens when we make business success a personal goal.

Dierdre Friel as Sheila's best friend, Greta, in Physical.

Dierdre Friel as Sheila’s best friend, Greta, in Physical.Credit:AppleTV+

Above the series, which progressed from 1981 to 1982 over two seasons, is an early flash to a domineering Sheila in 1986, complete with terrified staff and satisfied ambitions. It suggests a destination for the story, and given that Physical is an Apple TV+ series, it just might get there. Since launching in late 2019, the tech giant’s streaming service has had a simple but successful philosophy of supporting creators to create the show they want and not overtly mess with the outcome.

There have been setbacks: the stars morning wars, designed as a flagship, went off the rails in its second season (there will be a third – save me!). But for the most part, Apple TV+’s bespoke catalog — they don’t have hit 1990s sitcoms or reality shows — has been a hit. three seasons of Dickinson and For all mankinda 19th-century meta-comedy and space-race alternate history, respectively, plus everyone’s favorite wellness trainer, Ted Lasso, Foundation, mythical quest and Servant set a reference.

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