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Physical, Apple TV+ review - too much pain, not enough gain | reviews, news & interviews

Physical, Apple TV+ review - too much pain, not enough gain

Physical, Apple TV+ review - too much pain, not enough gain

Dark comedy which could have been called 'never trust a hippy'

Self-loathing: Rose Byrne as Sheila

It’s not easy to sum up Physical in a pithy soundbite, though “quasi-political misanthropic comedy” might be vaguely in the right ballpark.

It’s set in San Diego, California in the early Eighties, in the aftermath of Ronald Reagan’s election to the Presidency, and focuses on a dislikeable married couple, Sheila and Danny Ruben.

Their problems might be solvable if they were completely different people, but as it is they have an assortment of mountains to climb. Danny, played by Rory Scovel (pictured below) with an aura of sleaze and moral turpitude which seems to discharge its own specific and rancid aroma, is a college lecturer more concerned with hanging out with his female students than with academic excellence. Reflexively arrogant and self-regarding, he treats his wife Sheila (Rose Byrne) like the maid and babysitter. She’s smarter than her husband and saw through him a long time ago, but has become consumed in her own vortex of self-loathing. She keeps up an endless running commentary inside her head where she rages at herself as a “stupid fat fuck” with a wobbly ass, whereas in fact she’s stick-thin and suffering from a chronic eating disorder. Her dirty little secret is the way she’s systematically depleting the family savings account by regularly taking herself off to a motel to gorge on burgers and junk food, then throwing it all up afterwards.review Physical, Apple TV+ Not a healthy relationship then, though change is forced upon them when Danny is sacked from his job and forced to find some other means of survival. He hits upon the idea of a career in local politics, and, under the slogan “Save our Wave!”, takes as his theme the defence of the California coastline which is under threat from rapacious property developers. Or one in particular, John Breem (Paul Sparks), who has already built his own hideous shopping mall in town. It’s in this same shopping mall that Sheila stumbles across a women’s fitness class being run by Bunny (Della Saba), a Damascene moment which leads to Sheila adopting aerobics as the route to a healthier mind in a hopefully better-nourished body. It also leads to Sheila revealing other sides of her character, like a knack for blackmail and a penchant for petty theft.

The show’s creator Annie Weisman (Desperate Housewives etc) has a number of targets in her sights. The curdling of the ideals of the Sixties and early Seventies in the teeth of the onset of rapacious Reaganomics seems to be a guiding principle, in contrast to the radical campus politics Danny and Sheila embraced when they were students at Berkeley (famed in the Sixties for its Free Speech and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations). However, their hippy past comes in for its own share of ridicule, and serves as useful ammunition for an attack video by Danny’s political opponents. Danny’s choice for his campaign manager of a long-haired sleazeball called Jerry, who looks like he crawled out of a Robert Crumb cartoon, aptly sums up the show’s almost Swiftian disgust towards the supposed idealists and radicals who turned out to be merely con-artists or breadheads.

Perhaps the most pointed irony is the way that Sheila’s aerobics revelation, with its overtones of Jane Fonda's Workout and Olivia Newton-John singing “Physical”, throws us into lurid flashbacks of gaudy, plasticky Eighties synth-pop, which so perfectly evokes a lifestyle lacking an inner life. Physical delivers its fair share of sardonic laughter, and Byrne (who also gets a producer credit) excels in a role which probably gave her more pain than gain. But with no characters you can warm to, it’s an uphill battle for the viewer.

Flashbacks of gaudy, plasticky Eighties synth-pop perfectly evoke a lifestyle lacking an inner life


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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