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I’ve been mulling over AppleTV’s Physical for a couple of months now, hemming and hawing about whether to recommend it or not. It’s a difficult show, with a tone that veers all over the place—occasionally it’s a political comedy, sometimes it’s a quite-dark drama about the main character’s intense eating disorder, then it veers into being a satire about a burgeoning self-made aerobicize queen in the 80s, then it turns around and throws in a sexual abuse bombshell. Like I said: it’s a difficult show. If you don’t like it at first, just wait ten seconds and it’s about something else.

I can’t quite figure out if it’s meant to be a gloss on Jane Fonda or not, but it does involve a woman, Sheila (an absolutely terrific Rose Byrne), who gets the big idea to use an aerobics empire to fund her husband’s political ambitions (though she has Ulterior Motives as well), but I think the similarities end there and it has much larger ambitions.

At first, it’s Byrne’s show all the way (she is an expert eye-roller and jaw-clencher), but as the plot unfolds, we meet a whole phalanx of complicated supporting characters with appealingly detailed backstories: a sweet surfer dealing with impending hearing loss, a rich, shy housewife married to a guy with A Secret, even the great Wendie Malick shows up late in the season as Sheila’s mom—each of whom I hope gets more screen time in the show’s second season (which is happening).

It’s also got an absolutely killer soundtrack, but you should probably know that I say that every single time Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” pops up in anything at all.

It’s not for everyone. Let me repeat: It is not for everyone. It’s frequently dark and upsetting and it has an uneasy open-endedness that doesn’t let you (or itself) off the hook easily, and at the center of it is a main character who’s tough to root for (I think you do, but only just barely)—she is the hero and villain (if in a smaller way) of her own story.

But ultimately, I think it all pays off and it’s worth supporting, if only because I want artists to keep making weird and difficult things and if we don’t watch the ones out there now, they’ll stop and we’ll be stuck with Full House reruns for the rest of our lives.

About The Author

DG Strong took up knitting in 2014. He lives in Nashville with his sister, her rat terrier and a hound dog named Opal. He has a blog of drawings and faintly ridiculous rambling called The Psychopedia—there are worse ways to spend your afternoon.

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  • My friends always tell me “It’s weird, you’ll probably like it”. I’m happy to wear the weird banner. Did anyone else see Jennifer Beals at first?

    • Well said. I think the show is fantastic and Rose Byrnes is at her best (acting). Her character is very difficult to like, the fat shaming is imploring and hard to swallow. But then… where to start? The longer you watch you begin to see why Sheila is the way she is and then you begin to see the change that begins. The other characters are what kept me going on this one and it paid off. I ended up loving it, rooting for Sheila and the other characters, and can’t wait for it to come back. And that being said, it’s not for everyone. You need some thick skin for this one.

    • I did! Isn’t that funny/ or sad!?

      • Totally… I was like Rose Burns?!? Who?! Totally shoes my age…

  • Excellent analysis of a complicated show. I enjoyed it but it’s not for everyone just as you said. I feel the same about recommending the show- The Great. Loved it too but pretty kinky for an old lady to watch

  • Weird and odd are right up my alley! Have you all watched the original Belgian “Professor T.

    • ❤️ Professor T. I might have to sign up for Apple TV just yo watch Physical because I like Rose Byrne.

      • I just signed up to apple tv to watch it! …I thought Flashdance when I seen my email

    • I love Belgian Prof T. I’m savoring it, and slowly watching. I don’t want to binge and have over too quick.

  • Sounds like a but of a mess.

  • Sound great. If I try Apple for a month I’ll definitely watch. Although, sadly that probably won’t be for a while because I’m they don’t have much I like on Apple these days.

  • So I signed up for Apple TV and started it and, thanks to you, I’m hooked. The body dysmorphia doesn’t bother me at all. It’s just someone with a mental illness and, really, have you met my family? I do have one tiny issue. The music doesn’t line up with the dates. It’s supposed to be 1981 and songs like Space Age Love Song and the ever so iconic Gloria didn’t come out until 1982. There was another song used that didn’t come out until 1985 but I don’t remember which one. Regardless, I have decided to let that go and be glad for the royalties to Flock of Seagulls. I also had to get past the fact that for a minute there, I had Rose McGowan in my head not Rose Byrne (which would have been even weirder).

  • I really liked this show….brought back SO many memories of the early days of the aerobic craze, and tights and leotards and sweat bands! Yet another fabulous AppleTV show!

  • I have watched the first season. I’m glad that there will be a second. I found that your take on the show explains it perfectly. I found it hard to not watch and there were times when I wanted to give upon it, but I’m glad that I did not!

  • DG Strong: I miss your posts. I read Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette long before it was a movie and loved it. Wondered if you had read it. I love your essays and missed them this past few weeks, or have I had my head in the clouds.

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