Physical TV Review

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

Plot: Sheila Rubin is a quietly tormented housewife in ’80s San Diego. Behind closed doors, she battles extreme personal demons and a vicious inner voice. But things change when she discovers aerobics, sparking a journey toward empowerment and success.

Review: If there are any constants in this world of ours, two things are certain: the 1980s are a ripe time period for satire and spoof and Rose Byrne is awesome. The new AppleTV+ series Physical brings those together and the result is a biting dark comedy about excess and self-destruction told through the lens of the rising fad of aerobics. If that sounds like a ridiculous premise, I thought so myself, but the series manages to balance the two deftly while also skewering local politics and eating disorders for a refreshingly truthful series about the things people really think but never say. Taking a cue from director Craig Gillespie's visual style, Physical is a showcase for Rose Byrne as a dramatic and comedic talent.

AppleTV, Physical, Comedy, Drama, Craig Gillespie, Rose Byrne, TV Review, Paul Sparks, I Tonya, Annie Weisman

Created by Annie Weisman (Suburgatory, About A Boy), Physical follows the rise of Sheila Rubin (Byrne) through the world of aerobics. From the trailers, the series seems like it would focus on one woman's rise from her husband's shadow to become a powerful mogul. While that is certainly a part of the narrative of this series, the focus is more on the inner struggles of a woman who, outwardly, seems like she has it all together. We can all agree that Rose Byrne is a physically attractive person whom many viewers would desire to have or desire to be with. But, outward beauty is not always an indicator of mental or emotional health. The brutally honest narration of Sheila's conscience through each episode proves that as we glimpse the broken inside a seemingly flawless exterior.

Rose Byrne's performance here blends elements of past characters like the gorgeous sheen of Helen in Bridesmaids and the beloved spouse Kelly in Neighbors. But unlike any characters from her filmography, Sheila is a character haunted by her own shortcomings. From extreme bouts of body dysmorphia and eating disorders to a lack of self-control and confidence, Sheila shares more in common with many of us than we would care to admit. Because we get a glimpse inside of her thought process, we are privy to hearing things she thinks about those around her, much of which is brutally honest. From her lout of a husband, Danny (Rory Scovel) to local developer John Breem (Paul Sparks) as well as friend Greta (Dierdre Friel) and aerobics instructor Bunny (Della Saba), we meet those in her life through Sheila's eyes.

The ten-episode first season of Physical is directed by Stephanie Laing (Made for Love), Liza Johnson and Craig Gillespie. Gillespie recently premiered his Disney film Cruella but Physical shares a lot in common with his award-winning 2017 film I, Tonya. Like that film, Physical takes a surrealistic style that creates a glossy sheen over 1980s San Diego that does not evoke nostalgia as much as it feels slightly off-kilter. Artifacts of the 80s abound including camcorders, Ronald Reagan references, and the aerobics sequences themselves. Through each half-hour episode, the directors all make Sheila's real and dream worlds look era-appropriate.

If I have any complaints about the series, it is the inconsistent use of narration. Usually I am not a fan of voice-over as it can be over-used, but Rose Byrne's snappy delivery puts the device to great use. But, with this show focused on Sheila's thoughts, it should keep the perspective squarely on her. But, we get many scenes without Byrne at all which sometimes makes the narration feel like a crutch rather than an organic part of the story. Still, this is a minor quibble as the show is very well written. I just wish that the writers would have chosen to focus entirely on Sheila and keep her voice constant or give us a glimpse inside every character's thoughts.

AppleTV, Physical, Comedy, Drama, Craig Gillespie, Rose Byrne, TV Review, Paul Sparks, I Tonya, Annie Weisman

Physical is a dark look inside the lives of shiny happy people who are not really that happy. It offers an empowering story for a character who sometimes is not that nice to herself or to others, Rose Byrne has long deserved a showcase, and Physical puts all of her talents on display. Within this series, Byrne goes from hilarious to frightening, sad to scary, and all while making a leotard and frizzy hair look really damn good. Physical is a nasty look inside the dark side of the San Diego aerobics scene and I could not be happier to have written that sentence.

The first three episodes of Physical premiere June 18th on AppleTV+.

I, Tonya



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About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.