Review: Byrne Seems Bored and Stifled in Lackluster 'Physical'

by Padraic Maroney

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday June 18, 2021

'Physical'
'Physical'  (Source:AppleTV+)

In the war of the streaming services, the key to dominance is having a noteworthy title that strikes a nerve with the masses. Apple TV+ has been trying since its launch in 2019 to find the show that would help them breakthrough to the next level. "The Morning Show," "Servant," and "Ted Lasso" all have big names behind them, and none have achieved widespread popularity.

Rose Byrne is now the latest name to headline a show for the service. The actress can sell almost anything, regardless of her role, but even she isn't enough to make you want to continue watching the unfunny, almost offensive, and scattered "Physical."

Opening on the set of a workout tape that's in production, the show quickly goes back to five years to 1981 to show how Sheila began what seems to become an aerobics empire. She is a stay-at-home mother, dutifully running the house and catering to all of her husband's whims — regardless of whether it is setting up a threesome with a student, cooking him breakfast, or helping him run for elected office. While not a people person, she finds solitude in her ballet class, until it closes. That's when she meets Bunny and discovers her calling in the exercise world.

Centering around one of the most unlikeable cast of characters in a television show in recent memory, "Physical" misses the mark by not offering any character that you can root for. Sheila isn't just unlikeable, she has almost no redeeming qualities as she bulldozes past all of the other characters to get whatever she is after. Rather than focusing on this, the traits that creator Annie Weisman focuses on is her manipulation, low self-esteem, deception, and lack of self-control.

As if this wasn't enough, the audience is given a glimpse into her psyche with voiceovers displaying her inner monologue. That voice inside her head is usually meant to tear both herself and others down, criticizing both their physical appearance and habits that Sheila doesn't approve of. Thankfully, as the season goes on these are used less frequently.

Director Craig Gillespie, whose previous work with "I, Tonya" and "Cruella," shows that he is skilled at handling flawed characters and finding the humor in pitch-black situations. Despite helming many of the episodes, Gillespie doesn't provide any of his cinematic tricks here.

Byrne, who is reliably a standout in almost everything she appears in, seems bored and stifled by the material she is given. It's only actor Lou Taylor Pucci, as a surfing filmmaker, who seems to be having fun.

"Physical" takes place in the '80s, but it is premiering in 2021, leading to a clumsy balance of trying to be true to the time period with the politics of the current time it is being viewed. The writers have trouble straddling that line with their dealing of body image and eating disorders, where it comes across as taking unnecessary swipes at overweight people. Much like how you are excited for when your exercise class is over, you'll be glad when this is over as well. You just won't have the endorphins making you feel better at the end.


"Physical" streams on Apple TV+ starting June 18.