Physical (2021) Review

A luminous Rose Byrne cannot save this scattershot 1980s aerobics dramedy

Rony Patra -

Physical (2021) Review
Platform
Apple TV+
Platform Icons Click To Stream
Format
Original Series Review
Movie Rated
18+
Genre
Comedy,DRAMA
Language
English

What is the story about?

During the 1980s, Sheila Rubin, a housewife struggling with an oblivious husband, body-image issues and an eating disorder, encounters the life-chaging world of aerobics. Teaming up with spunky instructor Bunny and her chilled-out videographer boyfriend Tyler, Sheila secretly decides to become an instructor herself, and also get into the world of workout videos. However, this often clashes with her other mission: to help her husband Danny become a politician. Will Sheila be able to find herself?

Analysis

One of the most fascinating things about documenting America in the 1980s is the portrayal of the aerobics movement and how it exploded in the national consciousness via the still-nascent home video market. Creator Annie Weisman uses this period to narrate the story of a housewife struggling with self-doubt and body-image issues, possibly wrought by sexual abuse and years of being ignored and typecast as the carer, always relegated to the background. The feminist lens is hard to miss, and Physical takes us into Sheila's world, where political idealism jostles for attention as much as hard-nosed capitalism, and women are expected to toe the line and not have dreams of their own. In this scenario, Sheila's ferocious inner voice, that often tells her she is not good enough, is fascinating to hear. Equally intriguing to watch is how Sheila constantly defies this voice to chart her journey in the world of aerobics.
 
However, Weisman is so in love with her leading character that she forgets about the rest of Sheila's world, including the other characters. The scenes in each half-hour episode zip by whenever Sheila is not in the frame, and apart from the Bonny-Tyler subplot and Greta's marriage with Ernie, hardly any of the other subplots are fleshed out. The writing, too, becomes pedestrian after a while, focussing on Sheila's eating disorder time and time again, and Danny's character is rendered one-dimensional at best. The climax in the last episode also goes into bizarre territory. Considering the show has been renewed for a second season, Weisman and her team should ensure better writing to back up their shining lead.

Performances

Rose Byrne is the glue that holds this scatterhsot narrative together, and she is just smashing as Sheila, conveying hurt, self-doubt and ferocity all at the same time. Rory Scovel is dull and boorish as Danny, and you're not sure whether he was deliberately written like that or the actor seems befuddled. Della Saba is lovely to watch as the spunky Bunny, who doesn't realize how much power her profession holds. Lou Taylor Pucci is hilarious as the surf-crazy porn videographer Tyler, who teams up with Sheila to produce the first-ever aerobics video. Deirdre Friel's Greta initially seems like the stereotypical obese rich housewife, but she really comes into her own in the last three episodes. Paul Sparks makes an impression as mall magnate John Breem, and you sense he will have more to do in the upcoming season.

Music & Other Departments

The choice of songs for the series lends authenticity to the 1980s narrative. The camerawork is largely alright, but the lighting inside the Rubin household sometimes becomes pale.

Highlights

Rose Byrne's performance.

Drawbacks

The disjointed narrative and choppy writing only puts extra emphasis on Sheila's journey, without thinking of the other characters.

Did I enjoy it?

In bits and parts, but the entire show left me cold.

Do I recommend it?

You can watch it if you're a big fan of Rose Byrne, and if you want to relive the aerobics era of the 1980s. Otherwise this show can be given a miss.


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